A 3-year-old girl who went on a stroll with her uncle in Carbonado came back covered in mud and unable to walk.
Doctors later discovered she had a fractured eye socket and damage to her liver and kidney, in addition to a split lip and several bruises.
Pierce County prosecutors allege 26-year-old Darren Pendergast of Lake Tapps twice threw his niece into a mud puddle and forcefully held her head down.
He pleaded not guilty Wednesday to second-degree assault of a child. He was jailed in lieu of $400,000 bail and ordered not to have contact with children, including his niece and 6-year-old son who accompanied them on the walk.
Charging papers gave this account:
Pendergast took the children on a walk in the woods Sunday without notifying other family members. When the girl’s mother and Pendergast’s wife realized they were missing, the women started searching for them.
“The defendant’s wife said something was not right when the defendant and the children were gone that day, and she immediately thought he might do something to hurt” the girl, according to charging papers.
The trio returned from their walk two hours later. Pendergast was carrying his niece, who was covered in mud and wrapped in a sweatshirt. He told sheriff’s deputies the girl fell in the mud and he carried her home.
His son told a different story, saying Pendergast deliberately threw the girl on the ground.
“The defendant then laid (the girl) down in a mud puddle and pinned her like a wrestling match,” prosecutors wrote in court documents. “He shoved (her) face into the water with his hand to the back of her head.
“She tried to get her head out of the water by pushing up but the defendant had her head down there ‘for a bit.’”
After the assault, the girl reportedly laid down on the gravel path and was unable to walk.
Later, Pendergast’s wife expressed concern over an unexplained bruise on their 2-year-old son’s cheek because it possibly occurred while Pendergast watched him alone.