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Lebanon County man charged with shaking his infant son, causing subdural hemorrages

JONESTOWN — A 32-year-old Lebanon County man is facing numerous charges after police say he shook his infant son, causing the 5-month-old baby to suffer bleeding on his brain.

Vernell Holland Nickens, of the 200 block of Melanie Lane, is charged with three counts of aggravated assault, simple assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and recklessly endangering another person after a State Police investigation launched on Jan. 16.

According to police, troopers were summoned to Hershey Medical Center after a Lebanon County Children and Youth caseworker contacted them to report a case of possible child abuse. The infant had been admitted to the hospital and was listed in critical condition due to injuries that were consistent with child abuse, police say.

A nurse at the medical center told police that the child was brought to the hospital by his parents one day earlier because of excessive vomiting and lack of appetite, police say. The child was diagnosed with bilateral subdural hemorrages (brain bleeds) that were both acute and chronic. The child also may have had bleeding behind his eyes, the nurse told police.

The child’s doctor told police that there was no medical explanation for the injuries, and that he could not have caused them by himself. The injuries were consistent with child abuse, the doctor said.

In an interview with police, the child’s mother said she was the primary caregiver for the child when Nickens was at work during the week, but Nickens took care of the child when she worked on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The child had exhibited reflux issues for several months, his mother said, and would sometimes vomit after he had eaten. The baby began doing this the Saturday before he was admitted to the hospital, his mother told police.

Police then interviewed Nickens, who said he became frustrated and overwhelmed while caring for the baby and his 1-year-old daughter. He said he was cleaning up formula his daughter had spilled when he heard the baby crying, and noticed the baby was covered with vomit. He said he picked up the infant and was holding him while attending to his daughter. During that time, he told police, he was not supporting the baby’s head and it may have shaken back and forth, police say.

The baby’s doctor later told police that Nickens account did not fully explain the injuries to the baby. The doctor said the baby’s injuries were caused by rotational movement of the child’s head that is consistent with him being forcefully shaken back and forth.

The charges against Nickens were filed on Monday, according to the criminal complaint.