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Price v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

February 22, 2019

Meghan E. Price, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

          Appeal from the Morgan Circuit Court The Honorable Matthew G. Hanson, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 55C01-1706-F1-1253

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Glen E. Koch, II Boren Oliver & Coffey, LLP Martinsville, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Justin F. Roebel Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          RILEY, JUDGE.


         [¶1] Appellant-Defendant, Meghan Price (Price), appeals her conviction for neglect of a dependent resulting in death, a Level 1 felony, Ind. Code § 35-46-1-4(b)(3).

         [¶2] We affirm.


         [¶3] Price presents one issue on appeal, which we restate as: Whether the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain evidence.


         [¶4] Price's son, B.P., was on born in June 2011. As an infant, B.P. exhibited difficulties in gaining weight and had developmental delays. Subsequent genetic testing revealed that B.P.'s developmental delays were attributed to a condition called Fragile X chromosome. Fragile X is an indicator of autism, and it is associated with lack of impulse control, disruptive behavior, and aggressiveness. Significant developmental delays followed with B.P.'s speech being limited to single words until age four, followed by a limited vocabulary of approximately 25 words. B.P. also had a history of self-injurious behavior.

         [¶5] On July 14, 2014, an officer from the Morgan County Sheriff's Department was dispatched to Price's residence after receiving a report of a domestic dispute. Price informed the officer that B.P. had incurred some bruising while in the care of her boyfriend, Steven Ingalls (Ingalls). Ingalls was not present when the officer arrived. During the visit, the officer noted that B.P. had a scratch above his ear, a bruise to the right side of his forehead, and a purple bruise on his cheek. Price indicated that the domestic dispute resulted following a verbal altercation with Ingalls regarding B.P.'s injuries. After taking pictures of B.P.'s injuries, the officer left but reported the incident to the Department of Child Services (DCS). Price thereafter notified her family members and friends that Ingalls had moved out and she did not intend on dating him again. A few months later, Price and Ingalls resumed their relationship.

         [¶6] On November 18, 2015, Price called St. Vincent Hospital pediatric emergency department claiming that B.P. had ingested an unknown substance at a grocery store, had dilated eyes, and a low heart rate. Price stated that she was on her way to the hospital. Ingalls went with Price. While treating B.P., the attending nurse instructed Price to change B.P. into a gown. As the nurse was inquiring about B.P.'s medical history, she noticed that B.P. had "quite a bit of scratches on his face and neck and bruising all over his body." (Tr. Vol. VIII, p. 57). Based on B.P.'s injuries, the attending nurse contacted a social worker, who in turn interviewed Ingalls and Price. During the interview, Ingalls was "dismissive," and at "one point, he stormed out of the room" but later returned to finish the child abuse assessment. (Tr. Vol. VIII, p. 43).

         [¶7] On December 1, 2015, B.P. began preschool at Waverly Elementary School. On B.P.'s third day of school, Price informed the teacher that B.P. had injured his penis with his zipper. While changing B.P.'s diaper that day, the teacher observed the head of B.P.'s penis "was extremely bruised." (Tr. Vol. VI, p. 50). As the school year progressed, B.P. missed school with unexcused absences on twenty-five days. B.P. would return from those absences with new injuries, and Price would offer an explanation. The school nurse documented B.P.'s injuries as follows: multiple bruises on December 15, 2015; a large knot on his head on February 1, 2016; various bruises on his head including a "large green bruise on left forehead with a large knot" and eyelid bruising on February 11, 2016; bruises "all over [the] sides [of his] head" and other bruises all over his body "in various stages of healing" on March 3, 2016. (State's Ex. Vol. II, p.160). In February 2016 and March 2016, the school contacted DCS about the injuries.

         [¶8] In the fall semester of 2016, B.P. had a total of nineteen absences. The school nurse continued to document B.P.'s injuries: Pinch marks all over his penis; pinch like "bruise on his left ear," and "busted lip." (State's Ex. Vol. II, p.160). In September 2016, B.P. was treated for a broken arm and for a face laceration. The school bus driver also saw Price threaten "to pop [B.P.] right in the mouth" for using foul language. (Tr. Vol. VI, p. 79). In October 2016, B.P. was withdrawn from the school. Price conveyed to a friend that she was homeschooling B.P. since she was "over the crap" of B.P.'s school reporting her to DCS regarding B.P.'s injuries. (Tr. Vol. V, p. 187).

         [¶9] On November 8, 2016, B.P. was seen at St. Vincent Hospital for a lip laceration and underwent surgery two days later. On November 15, 2016, Price took B.P to St. Vincent Hospital yet again since he was having trouble breathing. The treating physician did not observe breathing difficulties in B.P., but he noticed that B.P. had bruising underneath both eyes. During a follow up appointment on November 22, 2016, B.P. was diagnosed with asthma and a sinus infection.

         [¶10] On November 23, 2016, at approximately 10:00 a.m., an unidentified male voice called 911 and reported that there was an unconscious, unresponsive child that was not breathing at Price's apartment. Moments later, emergency trained technicians (EMTs), firefighters, and police arrived at Price's apartment building. Ingalls was observed "walking around" like a "complete bystander" with "no emotion" holding his infant son and B.P.'s younger brother. (Tr. Vol. IV, pp. 134-35). EMTs then heard someone yell for help inside the building. The EMTs found B.P. who was unconscious at the bottom of the common stairway. When the EMTs asked Price what had happened, Price said that B.P. went to bed at 8:30 p.m. the night before, and that shortly before 911 was called, she checked on him and found him unresponsive.

         [¶11] The EMTs attempted CPR but were unable to open B.P.'s jaw. After efforts to set up an airway failed, they placed an oxygen mask over B.P.'s mouth and nose. One of the EMTs then picked up B.P. and carried him to the ambulance. Inside the ambulance, the EMTs inserted an IV and gave B.P. one dose of "epinephrine," and they arrived at the hospital shortly thereafter. (Tr. Vol. IV, p. 138).

         [¶12] Detective Chad Richhart (Detective Richhart) of the Mooresville Police Department arrived as the ambulance was leaving with B.P. Because Price and Ingalls could not ride with B.P. in the ambulance, Detective Richhart and another officer transported them to the hospital. Price was barefoot, and she went back to the apartment to retrieve her shoes before going to the hospital. Price's neighbor, Tiffany Hall, Ingalls, and Detective Richhart followed Price to the apartment. Detective Richhart stood by the apartment's doorway. While waiting for Price to get ready, Detective Richhart "saw [Price] once or twice come up and down the hallway [and] into the living room" and ask Ingalls "where is the camera card, where is the camera card?" (Tr. Vol. VII, p. 133). Detective Richhart rode with Ingalls, while Price rode with the other officer to the hospital.

         [¶13] At the hospital, Price and Ingalls made inconsistent statements regarding B.P.'s mouth injury and when B.P. was last seen in his normal state. For example, Price informed a family friend at the hospital that "when the EMTs tried to intubate [B.P] . . . they ripped his lip open." (Tr. Vol. V, p. 236). Price later informed that same friend that she had found B.P. "unresponsive, hanging over the side of his bed," and that she carried him to the living room and then "used a flathead screwdriver to pry his mouth open so she could" administer CPR on him. (Tr. Vol. VI, pp. 9-10).

         [¶14] As soon as Detective Richhart dropped Ingalls off at the hospital, he went back to the apartment. After briefly talking to another officer at the scene, Detective Richhart determined that Price's apartment was not secure. Also, Detective Richhart hoped that the walkthrough could be helpful to detect any apparent dangerous substances that B.P. might have ingested, and he intended to convey that information to the doctors who were treating B.P. During his walkthrough, Detective Richhart saw some blood on the bedding in B.P.'s bedroom, and on the bedroom floor carpet. Shortly thereafter, Detective Richhart and the other officer exited Price's apartment. At approximately 10:38 a.m., Detective Richhart received a call from the hospital that B.P. had died.

         [¶15] Detective Richhart instructed another officer to seek a search warrant for the apartment. After the warrant was issued, the officers began processing Price's apartment for evidence. In B.P.'s bedroom, the officers found a blood spot on the carpet, and inside the closet. They recovered a "green pillow that also had some blood and a greenish fluid" which seemed like vomit. (Tr. Vol. IV, p. 187). The officers also found a flathead screwdriver on a table that had blood. The officers also documented the medications in the apartment and counted the pills.

         [¶16] At around 11:00 a.m., Ingalls and Price returned to the apartment, and Price was furious that the officers were conducting a search of her apartment and could not let her inside. While searching B.P.'s bedroom, the officers located a camera by B.P.'s bed. Detective Richhart went outside and asked Price how the camera worked, and Price said that it "sort of" ran "like a monitor" and that it recorded video footage and sent it to "an app" on Price's cellphone. (Tr. Vol. VII, p. 140). Detective Richhart asked Price if he could have her phone, and Price indicated that it was in the house. Detective Richhart eventually found Price's cellphone in Price's bedroom, but it had no power. Detective Richhart took the phone to Price, who was sitting outside the apartment in a vehicle, to seek help.

         [¶17] After the phone had powered, Price informed Detective Richhart that she needed to check several things on her phone. Detective Richhart informed Price that he "didn't want her accessing the phone at that time." (Tr. Vol. VII, p. 142). After about "twenty or thirty seconds" of Price "actively . . . hitting the screen," Detective Richhart reached into the car and grabbed the cellphone from Price. (Tr. Vol. VII, p. 142). Detective Richhart then ordered another officer to obtain a warrant to search Price's cellphone.

         [¶18] B.P.'s autopsy revealed that he was a "very frail" five-year-old weighing about thirty-five pounds. (Tr. Vol. V, p. 133). B.P.'s cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation and the effects of elevated levels of several medications. The toxicology report revealed that B.P. had "very elevated levels" of two medications-Sertraline and Clonidine. Sertraline is an antidepressant which, in high doses, can cause "depression of the respiratory system." (Tr. Vol. V, p. 103). Clonidine is a blood pressure medication which treats anxiety and it can cause the lowering of "blood pressure." (Tr. Vol. V, p. 103). Also, the toxicology report showed that Risperidone, a prescribed drug that treats schizophrenia, was found in B.P.'s body. When the three drugs are used together, they can cause drowsiness, sleepiness, and low blood pressure.

         [¶19] By another search warrant, Price's phone was searched. There were several texts messages between Price and Ingalls. On November 12, 2016, two weeks before B.P. died, Price and Ingalls exchanged a long series ...

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