A 14-month-old Pierce County girl fought so hard when it was time for her eye drops that it sometimes took two adults to administer the solution, court records show.
Prosecutors contend the girl’s mother, Jennifer Mothershead, loaded the eyedropper with bleach before administering each dose.
They charged the 29-year-old Buckley woman Monday with one count of first-degree child assault, alleging she repeatedly squeezed bleach into her daughter’s eyes over a two-month period last year.
A doctor at Children’s Hospital in Seattle told detectives the girl’s eyes might be permanently damaged. The girl, now a toddler, lives with her father, who was separated from Mothershead when the injuries occurred.
A not guilty plea was entered on Mothershead’s behalf in Superior Court. Commissioner Meagan Foley ordered her jailed in lieu of $150,000 pending trial.
The case against Mothershead began in May 2011 when her daughter was taken by helicopter to Children’s Hospital for treatment of a head injury, court records show. Doctors called the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department because they suspected abuse.
“There was also some bruising and an eye infection that was concerning,” court records state.
Mothershead told a sheriff’s detective she was unemployed and caring for her daughter full time. She didn’t provide an explanation for her daughter’s head injury and, the detective said, showed no emotion when talking about her daughter’s injuries.
Deputy prosecutor Grant Blinn said Monday that no one was charged with causing the girl’s head injury because investigators could not pinpoint how it happened.
Asked about the eye infection, Mothershead told the detective her daughter suffered a corneal abrasion while playing in a barn.
Mothershead said doctors prescribed antibiotics and eye drops for the injury. She said her daughter’s eyes had been swollen shut for about four weeks, and the girl slept for 20 to 22 hours a day because of the discomfort, court records show.
Mothershead said her daughter needed to be swaddled when the drops were administered and called the girl “a fighter,” records show.
A friend of the family later said it often took two people to give the girl the eye drops.
The detectives immediately placed the girl into state protective custody.
“… the defendant said that she needed to give (the girl) her eye drops before she left and said she had left the eye drops in the hospital room in a cooler,” the records show. “She was told that detectives would ensure that proper medications would be administered and she became emotional and slightly argumentative.”
A hospital staff member later opened the eye drops and noticed a foul odor, which nauseated some nurses and caused other people’s eyes to burn.
Investigators, who worked the case for nearly a year, sent the drops to the federal Food and Drug Administration’s forensic chemistry laboratory for analysis. The lab determined the drops contained bleach.
“The staff at Harborview determined that the damage to the child’s eyes was consistent with repeated exposure to bleach, and ruled out any possibility that the eye dropper had been merely cleaned with bleach,” prosecutors said in a statement.
The girl’s condition started to improve in the hospital, but doctors noted she had permanently lost vision in her right eye.
Blinn said Monday he didn’t have information on a possible motive.
The deputy prosecutor said in court that the state has petitioned to have Mothershead’s second child taken from her as well.