Hearing set for Wednesday in Polk County child abuse case

A 25-year-old Polk County, Tenn., mother will be arraigned this week on a charge of aggravated child abuse and neglect after her infant son was treated last week at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga for multiple injuries that appear to have happened over a period of time.

Jessica Lee Mendez on Monday remained behind bars without bond and now faces arraignment in General Sessions Court on Wednesday, Polk County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brian Fields said.

Fields said the boy was being treated at the Chattanooga hospital on July 10 when medical officials notified the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services of his injuries, and law enforcement in Polk County was notified soon after.

Fields said the baby had most recently suffered a broken femur, the largest bone in the human body. But the baby also had multiple other broken bones in different stages of healing, including several skull fractures, a wrist fracture and broken ribs, Fields said.

The baby has since been released from the hospital but faces a long recovery, the officer said.

Mendez, who was jailed Thursday, is charged under the 2005 state statute known as Haley’s Law.

Haley’s law stiffens potential punishment for defendants. Under the law, the charge of aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect or endangerment becomes a Class A felony when it involves a victim 8 years old or younger or one who is “mentally defective, mentally incapacitated or suffers from a physical disability,” the law states.

Class A felonies in Tennessee carry a penalty of 15-60 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000, according to state law.

Fields said the boy was the only child in Mendez’s care at the time she was arrested. The child reached his first birthday while he was being treated at the hospital, Fields said.

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