The head of Fort Carson’s investigations division was ordered to testify Wednesday evening after his special agents gave conflicting and vague accounts of the moment a boy first accused his uncle of slamming the boy’s younger brother into the floor.
Jarrett Banton, the special agent in charge of Fort Carson’s Criminal Investigation Division, faced withering questioning during the day-long evidence hearing for Pfc. Jason A. Price, a Fort Carson soldier accused of killing Kevin Rosa Perez, his 2-year-old nephew.
Topping defense attorneys’ concerns: Conflicting testimony by two Fort Carson investigators about who interviewed Kevin’s older brother. The brother, who was 3 at the time, is the only person to say Price allegedly threw Kevin against a kitchen floor Nov. 5.
“I just feel their stories were so different and not related whatsoever,” that Banton needs to testify, Maj. Roby Randall said shortly after 5:30 p.m.
Kevin, who entered the country without permission with his brother in October, died nearly a week after being found unconscious and foaming at the mouth.
Kevin’s mother, who used a “coyote” to get across the border, arrived in Colorado Springs days after Kevin was hospitalized.
A coroner ruled his death a homicide after blood pooled in his brain, causing it to swell. Dr. Paul Grabb, who operated on Kevin at Memorial Hospital, said at the hearing that the injury could be caused only by abuse.
“Inside the home, without falling from a third story window… this was going to be abusive head trauma,” Grabb said.
The cause of that trauma remained a contentious detail Wednesday.
Price’s civilian attorney, James Culp, accused Banton’s department of coercing a confession from the toddler’s older brother after investigators said they questioned him without a child advocate.
He also complained their interview happened in the house where his brother was allegedly abused, instead of in a neutral setting.
Louis Suazo, who was assigned to translate for the boy during the investigation, said in the first day of testimony Tuesday that agents took the child inside the house to point out which bed Kevin fell from. The fall was an early theory for the child’s injuries.
As they left the bedroom, the boy remarked that Price allegedly threw Kevin in the kitchen — apparent punishment for knocking over a candle while playing video games.
On Wednesday, Special Agent Phillip Thompson said he didn’t hear much of the boy’s confession despite standing feet away. He said the chief investigator, Christopher Vitatoe, was in charge of listening.
Vitatoe later testified that he didn’t recall hearing the boy speak of the kitchen incident.
Neither Thompson nor Vitatoe wrote detailed notes about the conversation. Their interview wasn’t recorded.
“If they (the notes) are not in a file for you guys, I don’t have them,” Thompson said.
Culp questioned Banton for nearly an hour and half, at one point asking if he’s the chief of the division.
“Right now,” Banton responded. “Tomorrow it might be different.”
Banton later admitted his investigators could have found a better way to interview the boy.
“With hindsight, yes,” Banton said.
The hearing is expected to continue Thursday. Randall will later issue a recommendation on whether the case should proceed to court-martial. Fort Carson’s commander, Maj. Gen. Joe Anderson, will have final say on whether Price is tried.
If convicted, Price faces a maximum penalty of life behind bars.