EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 19, 2013

Social worker: Boyfriend said he hurt baby

Report says mom, boyfriend cooperated with investigation as concerned caretakers

By Sara Brown
sbrown@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — Amy Silverio, of the state’s Department of Children and Families, testified yesterday that Steve Amos told her he “always tried to be safe with” his girlfriend Heather Dragotta’s 5 1/2 week old daughter Autumn. Yet, Amos might have caused the fractures and brain hemorrhage that sent her to Lawrence General Hospital in June 2010.

“He said when she was first born, he treated her like a piece of crystal but then later thought she was more flexible than he originally believed,” Silverio said.

Silverio, who interviewed both Dragotta and Amos after the baby girl ended up in emergency room, was the first prosecution witness yesterday in the opening day of Dragotta and Amos’ infant abuse trial In Lawrence Superior Court. Judge Richard Welch will hear the case and render the verdicts.

Three years ago, the pair were arraigned on multiple charges of assault and battery on a child resulting in injury and permitting injury to a child. Dragotta, 33, and Amos, 34, are accused of harming Autumn in Dragotta’s North Andover home.

On June 3, 2010, Dragotta and Amos brought Autumn to LGH after she was fussy all day. She was later transferred to Children’s Hospital in Boston where doctors diagnosed multiple rib fractures and a brain hemorrhage they believed were consistent with violent shaking and inflicted abuse. Authorities immediately got involved.

Dragotta has said the infant’s injuries were caused by copper and Vitamin D deficiencies, a condition known as infantile rickets.

Silverio testified that she interviewed both Dragotta and Amos separately on June 4, 2010.

Silverio said Dragotta told her that Autumn was a normal, healthy baby. A few weeks after giving birth to her she noticed her daughter was suffering from gas. She went to her pediatrician to find remedies to solve the problem. He taught her a “bicycle technique” where she would gently move Autumn’s legs as if they were riding a bike, Silverio said.

Dragotta taught this technique to Amos. However, he soon developed his own technique where he would grab Autumn’s leg and bring them forward so her knees would be pressing into her stomach, Silverio testified.

Prosecutor Kate MacDougall asked Silverio if she asked Dragotta how often she saw Amos perform this technique.

“I did. She said about every time he changed her diaper,” Silverio answered. “She said he pressed hard too.”

However, Kevin Mitchell, Amos’ defense attorney, pointed out that Silverio reported something different in her initial written report on the case.

“You wrote that Dragotta said she only saw it happened maybe four or five times total. Is that correct?” he asked.

“If that’s what my report says, I stand by my report,” Silverio replied.

Silverio said Dragotta asked Amos to stop performing that technique when she watched Autumn turn red and cry after it was done.

During her interview with Amos, he said his technique of helping Autumn with her gas is what probably caused her fractured ribs. He said he believed it had worked initially but said he stopped when he thought he was hurting her organs, Silverio said.

Silverio said Amos also told her he may have caused the brain hemorrhage as well.

He told Silverio he danced around with Autumn and used her “like a guitar.” As he was dancing with her, he rocked her back and forth. He had one hand holding her back and two fingers holding her neck up. He let go of her neck and her head came “crashing down” and hit his collar bone, Silverio testified.

“He said he believed she could hold her head up for a few seconds at a time,” Silverio said.

But the defense painted a very different picture of the dance. They claim Amos didn’t let go of his fingers but rather the infant’s head came crashing back because of the motion they were going in. Also, that the rocking back and forth was gentle.

“Did you ask him how fast he was going or what his speed he was using,” Defense Attorney Ronald Ranta asked Silverio.

“No,” she replied.

MacDougall fired back.

“When he performed this dance in front of you, were you concerned or think it was inappropriate?” she asked Silverio.

“Yes,” she said.

The prosecution and defense disagreed when Dragotta found out about the dancing accident. The prosecution claims she knew on Memorial Day Weekend 2010. But the defense said Dragotta didn’t know until Silverio interviewed her.

The defense also said that Amos wasn’t necessarily confessing to the crime through his admissions, but rather trying to be helpful and provide any information he could. In fact, Mitchell said both Amos and Dragotta worked with investigators willingly and acted like concerned caretakers.

“Didn’t he offer to move out of the house?” Mitchell asked Silverio.

“Yes. We asked if he didn’t trust himself,” she said.

“And it says in your report he said ‘for the past 20 hours I have been going over whether or not I was gentle enough with her. I always tried to be safe with her,’ Correct?” Mitchell asked back.

“Correct,” she said.

Autumn now lives now with her biological father at an undisclosed location in New Hampshire.

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