A 2-year-old boy in West St. Paul suffered first- and second-degree burns to his back, buttocks, upper thighs and fingers after he was forced into a tub of scorching hot water, according to charges filed Monday in Dakota County District Court.
Hardel H. Sherrell, 23, the live-in boyfriend of the child's mother, is being held in the county jail on two felony charges of malicious punishment of a child.
A criminal complaint said that a West St. Paul police detective and a county social worker met with the child's mother at a hospital Jan. 27. She said she'd left her 2-year-old in the care of her boyfriend of four months when she went to work Jan. 24 and got a call from the boyfriend that afternoon saying he'd put the child in the bathtub after a toilet accident and that the water "had turned scorching hot."
Sherrell told police last Wednesday that he pulled off the boy's pants and put him in the tub. He said "he got onto the child about creating a mess," then left the bathroom for a short time, the complaint said. When he returned, the boy was on his tiptoes in the tub, he told police. When he noticed that the boy's body felt hot and his buttocks were blistered, Sherrell said, he called his girlfriend, who told him to take the boy to a hospital.
But doctors told police that the burn pattern on the boy's backside and fingers did not come from sitting in the tub voluntarily.
West St. Paul police Lt. Brian Sturgeon said Monday that "nobody could sit in a tub of hot water and obtain those burns unless they have no feeling."
He said the doctors told investigators that the child had to have been forced into the tub or held down.
Police also found marks on the boy's face, neck and arm and confronted Sherrell about those. He denied causing the injuries, initially saying they happened in day care, then later claimed the boy had been hurt in a fall outside on Jan. 23. Doctors told police that the boy's injuries were consistent with being hit in the face with an open hand or an object and from being grabbed by the arm.
The boy is still living with his mother, Sturgeon said.
"The family is cooperating with us," he said. "They're the ones that brought it to our attention."