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Civil suit, motion for new trial filed in child abuse case

The Record-Eagle - 1/14/2020

Jan. 14--TRAVERSE CITY -- The parents of a boy who suffered traumatic and serious injuries at his Traverse City day-care provider are seeking monetary damages in a civil lawsuit filed last month.

Sarah and Derek Quick filed a complaint with the 13th Circuit Court in Grand Traverse County against Melissa Ullom, David Ullom and Little Squirts Daycare on Dec. 3. They are asking for a jury to award them more than $25,000 for the "past, present and future" physical and mental injuries suffered by their son as well as the ongoing care and long-lasting impact of those injuries.

A jury convicted Melissa Ullom of first-degree child abuse in April, and Judge Thomas Power sentenced the 43-year-old to 3.5 to 20 years in prison. Ullom is currently serving that sentence at the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Washtenaw County.

Prosecutors charged Ullom after emergency responders rushed to the aid of an unresponsive 8-month-old baby boy at her East Bay Township home on Dec. 21, 2016. Medical staff at DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids determined the infant suffered severe head trauma. Dr. Angela May examined the boy at DeVos after the incident and noted respiratory failure, bleeding and swelling in and around the brain, soft tissue swelling around the cervical spine and other injuries.

Those injuries -- including a skull fracture, cerebral contusion, subarachnoid bleeding, subdural hematomas and other issues -- have required extensive, painful and costly medical treatment, including several therapies and rehabilitation. The infant boy spent 20 days at Spectrum Health Hospital for medical treatment and 11 days at Mary Free Bed Hospital for rehabilitation.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg said during the sentencing that the boy, who turns 4 years old in April, still receives daily physical and occupational therapy, wears braces on his legs to help him walk, has trouble seeing out of his left eye and has shown signs of developmental difficulties.

Tom McCarthy, the Quicks' attorney, said his clients are refraining from speaking publicly about the lawsuit at this time as the civil proceedings get underway.

"We want to let this settle in, first," McCarthy said.

The civil complaint alleges the Ulloms failed to "monitor, supervise and control the conduct, behavior and stress level of Melissa Ullom to ensure that she did not hurt or injure the children in her care," including the Quicks' son. The complaint also claims David Ullom knew of his wife's "violent propensities" because of a previous charge of domestic assault against her as well as a time when Melissa Ullom threw a pair of scissors at him while he was holding a small child.

McCarthy claims David Ullom and Little Squirts are liable because they knew of these issues and were negligent in not assisting Ullom with her stressors so that she would not act out violently toward the children in her care.

The criminal proceedings against Ullom also continue, despite the jury verdict last year. Mark Satawa and Stuart Friedman, Ullom's attorneys, filed a motion for a new trial in late December. Ullom's defense team is citing ineffective counsel, arguing her original attorney, James Hunt, "never consulted with or hired a medical expert to independently review the medical opinion's of the state's experts."

The motion filed with the 13th Circuit Court also states Hunt did not cross-examine the prosecution's medical experts on "critically important medical issues" regarding how the Quicks' son could have sustained his injuries -- calling the defense "inadequate."

"Mr. Hunt mounted a common sense defense attempting to salvage a few table scraps from the state's experts and pyramid this into reasonable doubt," the defense's brief states. "Mr. Hunt left too many scraps on the table while his client was starving."

Moeggenberg said she expected this motion from Ullom's defense.

"Abusive head trauma cases with kids are extremely difficult," Moeggenburg said. "I don't know whether or not Jim Hunt consulted with an expert."

A hearing on the matter is slated for 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24.

Neither Satawa nor Hunt returned calls for comment regarding the criminal case.

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