Mother accused of putting bleach in infant daughter's eyes

TACOMA, Wash. -- A Buckley mother accused of putting bleach on her infant daughter's eyes pleaded not guilty Monday.

Jennifer L. Mothershead turned herself in to police on Friday and is being held for investigation of first-degree assault.

Mothershead's then-14-month-old daughter was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center on May 12, 2011 for a head injury, but doctors also found some bruising and eye infection, according to the statement of probable cause following police's year-long investigation.

Showing no emotion to the trauma of having her daughter airlifted, the mother said she had no idea what caused the head injury, only claiming that a friend was caring for her just before it happened, prosecutors wrote. The documents didn't give any other details about the head injury.

But asked about the eye infection, the mother said her daughter's eyes had been swollen shut for about four weeks and that the issue began two months' prior when her daughter got a scratch on her eye while playing in a barn, documents said.

She said her daughter was given antibiotics and eye drops for the infection, and that she was primary person to put them in her daughter's eyes as her husband had just recently filed for divorce. Court documents say she wanted the father's visits severely limited because of the baby's fragile eye condition and she was the main caregiver.

When the daughter was placed into protective custody at the hospital for the head injury, the mother said she needed to go get the eye drops from the hospital room.

Detectives said they would make sure the girl gets her proper medication, but when hospital staff later opened the container, they noticed a strong fumes smell that caused their eyes to burn, prosecutors said. A detective also investigated the bottle and noted the strong smell.

The bottle was sent out for testing and it was later determined to contain bleach, prosecutors said.

A doctor at Children's Hospital later told detectives the infant's eye infections were consistent with injuries caused by bleach, and whoever gave the initial diagnosis of a scratched eye was incorrect.

The girl's condition improved once removed from her mother's care, but doctors say her vision may never be normal and that some blindness in her right eye was permanent, documents said.

Mothershead is being held on $150,000 bail. The infant, now 2 years old, has been staying with her biological father since the original incident. Mothershead has a younger child that is also in the care of other family members.