Chat with the Police Chief: Child Abuse Awareness and Difficult Calls

Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) Every year, law enforcement investigates many reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. In light of Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, Marshfield Police Department takes an active role in bringing awareness to the impact of child abuse.

One of the department’s most difficult cases occurred April 6 when police responded to a case of a newborn child that was missing. A 22 year-old woman who came into the ER to be treated for heavy bleeding stated she’d been sexually assaulted and denied giving birth. Medical staff alerted the Wood County Sheriff’s Department of the situation.

Law enforcement were able to learn that the woman had given birth at a private residence in Milladore and located the vehicle of the baby’s father in the medical center parking lot.

“They had said they got a ride to the hospital, so we didn’t even know if they had a vehicle there,” said Chief Rick Gramza, Marshfield Police Department. “Once we were able to find the vehicle and learn all this, a good 5-6 hours had passed since they had been at the hospital.”

The baby was found wrapped in a bath towel inside a plastic garbage bag in the backset. A Marshfield police officer rushed the baby to the emergency room where life-saving measures were taken. Though able to get a heartbeat temporarily, the newborn succumbed to his injuries.

The mother, Marylinn Feher, was charged with homicide. The defendant’s bond was quadrupled by a judge on April 12 to $1 million. Feher had attempted to strangle her newborn child. A charge of child neglect resulting in death is being brought against the baby’s father, Allen Rice.

Options such as the Safe Haven Law, if taken, would have prevented the infanticide. Under the law, an unharmed newborn can be relinquished to a hospital worker, fire department, or law enforcement agency within three days with no questions asked.

“If you truly do not want the child and do not desire to have the child, there are so many ways to give that child a chance at life and a chance at being part of a family than doing what they did,” said Gramza.

Difficult cases like this incident can take an emotional toll on responders.

“As you work through situations like this, a lot of emotions hit you from different sides. A lot of our officers have children. A lot of the medical staff that were trying to revive this child have children,” said Gramza. “It was unfortunate the circumstances that led up to the death and what we learned later, but it’s really important for our officers to talk and try to humanize the situation and not just try to bury it.”

In these cases, a counselor or crisis debrief specialist is brought in and runs a debrief with those who were intimately involved with the situation to talk the situation out. Officers are encouraged but not required to seek counseling.

“We work with Marshfield Clinic Behavioral health in offering this counseling for our officers and other emergency responders just so they can try to work through the stress that they’re experiencing and the trauma that they experienced,” Gramza said.

Those who suspect child abuse should call 911 in an emergency or, in a non-emergency, the human services department or law enforcement agency in that jurisdiction. The Wood County Human Services Department can be reached at 715-421-8600 or 715-387-6374; the Marathon County Human Services Department at 715-261-7500. The reporter can also contact the Wood County Dispatch Center at 715-387-4394. Calls can be anonymous.

Wood County Parents Charged with Death of Newborn Child

Parents accused in newborn’s death didn’t believe pregnancy