In the decades-long debate over whether infant brain injuries result from violent shaking by an adult, it has not been possible to run the simplest kind of experiment. One cannot ethically shake babies and see whether they suffer brain injuries. But recently an indisputable shaking of a baby—indisputable because recorded on video—was found to produce no serious injury.
A young woman in Arizona was arrested after a cell phone video captured footage of her violently shaking her ten-month old baby on a street corner. Local police charged the woman, Khadija Greer-Simkins, with aggravated assault of a minor, as well as child abuse and endangerment.
The video, which police viewed before taking Ms. Greet-Simkins into custody, shows the mother holding the baby by the sides of the face, vigorously shaking the child back and forth. She held the baby only by the head, allowing the rest of the baby’s body to hang suspended in the air. The cell phone video also appears to show Ms. Greer-Simkins slapping the baby’s face after the violent shaking. Eyewitnesses also reported seeing Ms. Greer-Simkins poke the baby in the eyes.
Officers located Ms. Greer-Simkins and her boyfriend with the child and a dog in a vehicle parked at a local convenience store. The child was in an unsecured car seat and appeared to be sleeping. The responding officers became increasingly concerned when the child did not react to the dog’s loud barking, which began after Ms. Greer-Simkins yelled at the approaching officers.
Ms. Greer-Simkins was taken into custody, while police removed her baby from the car (now awake). The child was then examined by first responders for signs of brain damage, then taken to doctors at the hospital. No serious injuries were found by anyone.
In her blog On Shaken Baby, Sue Luttner points out that this case is significant because it involves a video-recorded shaking of a child who was found afterward to have sustained no serious injuries. The sergeant assigned to the case reported that “the child did not appear to suffer any serious injuries and is currently in the care of [child protective services]. I have seen too often in shaken baby cases where permanent brain damage or death occurs.”
As Ms. Luttner notes, the sergeant may be speaking of cases in which physicians wrongly concluded that a baby’s brain damage or death was due to shaking—and their incorrect diagnoses have been accepted as accurate.
This case puts in question shaken-baby doctrine—that a so-called “triad” of brain symptoms proves a baby has been shaken. If a baby can be shaken as violently as Ms. Greer-Simkins shook hers in the video, shouldn’t the baby have at least one of the three symptoms in the triad?
This incident was not the first time that local police had received reports of Ms. Greer-Simkins shaking her baby. In fact, police had contacted her six times for that reason in the three months preceding her arrest. Witnesses previously reported seeing Ms. Greer-Simkins shake the child while panhandling in town. But police always found the child to be safe and in good health.
The police later discovered that the child had been kidnapped by her parents from her foster care placement in another state.