Ridgeville child-mauling case: Horrible accident or neglect?
Chantel and Quintin McGrew stayed up late the last night they spent with their family intact.
Chantel worked delivering pizzas until about 1:30 a.m. on April 20. She and her husband, who runs a computer repair service from their mobile home near Ridgeville, spent another hour together before falling asleep, according to Quintin’s defense attorney, Andy Savage.
Hours later, Chantel would go to an appointment with their 7-year-old daughter, Samantha, and Quintin would curl up for a nap with their 3-year-old son, Robert, and the family dog, Lucky.
In other room, the unthinkable would happen: Another dog, a Labrador retriever mix named Bo that the family brought home as a foster, would drag their 2-month-old son, Aiden, from a swing and fatally maul him.
Dorchester County sheriff’s investigators arrested 28-year-old Quintin McGrew Wednesday on a charge of unlawful conduct toward a child. Savage questioned the arrest, saying there is no indication that his client did anything wrong.
McGrew’s drug and alcohol screening proved clean, and he remains devastated by the loss of his youngest child, Savage said.
He and other local attorneys said they doubt that the charge against his client will stick. Savage wonders about a double standard.
“With working poor people there’s a different judgment,” Savage said.
North Charleston criminal defense attorney Reese Stidham, whose firm specializes in dog attacks, said these cases typically play out in civil court, where the person bitten sues the dog’s owner.
Under this criminal charge, Stidham said, prosecutors must show that McGrew placed Aiden at an unreasonable risk of harm.
“The question would be, was it unreasonable to leave the child unattended?” Stidham said. “Is leaving the baby unattended with a dog, is that an unreasonable risk of harm and his ability to monitor that child’s safety?”
Investigators think so.
Dorchester County Coroner Chris Nisbet ruled that parental neglect played a role in Aiden’s death and ruled the case a homicide by “animal eating.”
“A child cannot care for himself, and the parent is in charge of caring for his safety and well-being,” Nisbet said. “The child was left in the custody of the father, and he chose to go back to sleep with a child in a bouncy swing on the floor with a dog that they don’t know that well. It’s just like you don’t let your child go play in the street.”
Was it neglect?
Dorchester County sheriff’s Lt. Tony Phinney said investigators weighed a variety of statutes and found that the language of the unlawful conduct statute best fits this case.
“It’s unique in that you have to ask the question, is it neglectful? Was there a neglectful act that caused harm to the child?”
Phinney discounted the idea that the family’s circumstances played any role in the charge. The McGrews kept chickens that the children’s grandparents brought as Easter gifts inside their home, but Phinney said those details would fall to Department of Social Services investigators, not to the Sheriff’s Office.
“These people were genuinely remorseful, and we take no joy in investigating this, but we have to be advocates for the child,” Phinney said. “We take no joy in closing this case. It’s been horrible for my guys, horrible for EMS, horrible for the coroner’s office. I could have gone the rest of my time here and been happy to never see a case like that.”
Miller Shealy, an associate professor at the Charleston School of Law, said the case against McGrew will be tough to prove in court without some indication that Bo posed a threat.
“It’s a very tragic case,” Shealy said. “It’s going to be a difficult prosecution without these people having some record or some indication that the dog was dangerous.”
McGrew’s criminal record shows only an October 2007 conviction for check fraud, according to the State Law Enforcement Division. His wife supported him at his bond hearing Wednesday, where a magistrate judge released him from jail on a personal recognizance bond of $50,000.
“If it were a neighbor’s dog or a third-party dog, it would be easier” to prosecute, Shealy said.
Savage, McGrew’s attorney, said investigators found no evidence of unlawful activity at the home, that the children receive regular medical checkups and receive proper food and clothing.
Savage said his priority now is reuniting the couple with their two surviving children, who remain in the custody of relatives.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ allysonjbird.