Mom, boyfriend arrested in abuse of 4-year-old girl

Child in critical but stable condition at Shands

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The mother of a 4-year-old girl fighting for her life and the woman's boyfriend were arrested after police said she gave her boyfriend permission to discipline her daughter, which led to the girl being critically injured.

Brandy Vanslooten-Caldwell, 25, is charged with willfully neglecting a child causing great bodily harm. Her boyfriend, 40-year-old Santos Velez, is charged with aggravated child abuse causing great bodily harm, permanent disability and disfigurement.

The girl is in critical but stable condition at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center after surgery for internal injuries. She was taken to the hospital Saturday, nearly 24 hours after suffering her injuries, police said.

According to a police report, on several occasions, the girl's mother spoke with Velez about the "harsh" disciplining of the child, which included whippings with belts and an electrical cord, leaving welts. The mother "overheard a loud thump and the child making a gargling noise," then "she overheard Velez on several occasions tell the child, 'Get up, get up,'" according to the report. Police said she did nothing to stop it.

The incident last weekend happened after the girl told Velez she had to use the bathroom, but did not urinate. Velez told police that happened twice.

Santos, who admitted "he might have used excessive punishment" toward the child unintentionally, admitted he became so agitated he held her down on the floor and kneed her in the stomach, according to the report.

Vanslooten-Caldwell told police she didn't take the child to the hospital or report it because "she felt that Santos would do the same thing to her."

"We believe in this case that if this would have been reported to us, this abuse that had happened had been reported earlier, the child's injuries would not have progressed to this extent," said John Harrell, of the Department of Children and Families.

Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson said even though the mother did not physically abuse the child, she is still responsible in the eyes of the law.

"Well, she never should have given permission for somebody else to be giving disciplinary actions on her child, first of all, and secondly, you can't leave a person who is irresponsible in charge of your child to take care of that kind of matter," Jefferson said. "It just strikes me as total negligence, and they have been properly charged with child abuse."

Vanslooten-Caldwell and Velez are both Durham School Services bus drivers in Jacksonville. They have been placed on deferred leave.

"Durham is cooperating with the authorities in their investigation. The drivers have been employed at Durham for three years," the bus company said in a statement. "This matter in no way jeopardized the safety of the students we serve, and Durham remains committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure safe and reliable student transportation."

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