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Toppen bound over for trial on child abuse, murder charges

Alexander Sinn • Jan 11, 2019 at 4:59 PM

The gallery shuffled quietly out of the courtroom Friday after Ottawa County District Judge Craig Bunce bound 19-year-old Cameron Toppen to charges of first-degree child abuse and felony murder.

Toppen is accused of causing a brain injury when he shook his girlfriend’s 8-month-old child in a Grand Haven Township home Nov. 15, 2018.

The child, Scarlett Ray-Marie Burroughs, died two days later at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Friday’s preliminary examination, with testimony from the forensic pathologist and lead detective on the case, convinced Bunce that charges and a trial are justified.

Toppen, represented by attorney John Moritz, remains lodged in the Ottawa County Jail. He will be arraigned in Circuit Court on Feb. 1.

The victim’s mother, Rachel Burroughs, and father, Clinton Burroughs, testified on their recollections surrounding the incident. 

In addition, two adult roommates — who at the time lived with Toppen, Rachel Burroughs and her four children — testified that on Nov. 14 they overheard Toppen shout at the child to “shut the (expletive) up.”

Burroughs said Toppen, her boyfriend at the time, was the primary caregiver for Scarlett. She said Toppen had always treated her children with kindness.

On Nov. 15, Toppen was alone at home with Scarlett while the three other adults were at work. Toppen had dropped off Burroughs’ other three children at school that morning.

Clinton Burroughs said Toppen called him just after 2 p.m. and told him that Scarlett was unresponsive and foaming at the mouth. Toppen called 911 and paramedics arrived on the scene shortly after that.

Forensic pathologist Dr. David Start conducted an autopsy Nov. 20. He found the cause of the girl’s death to be craniocerebral trauma, or a head injury. He ruled the death a homicide.

Major injuries were confined to the head, Smart said, including abrasions to the back of the head and hemorrhaging of the brain and the left retina. There were no injuries to the face, neck or other parts of the body, Smart noted, nor any bone fractures to the skull or body.

Smart said the injuries were consistent with the head “accelerating and decelerating rapidly,” such as from violent shaking.

The child wore a helmet for flat head syndrome (plagiocefalia), but Smart said putting on or removing the helmet would not have caused the hemorrhaging.

Detective Tyler Kempema of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office interviewed Toppen on the day of the incident and again the following day. He said Toppen altered his story, first telling the detective the child had fallen and hit her head on the crib when he was removing the helmet, and later confirming he had shaken the child, who was not wearing the helmet.

Kempema said Toppen was being “deceptive.”

Toppen told Kempema he was frustrated that the child would not stop crying, the detective said, and he had “snapped.” 

Bunce said the child abuse charge relies on proof that Toppen was a parent or guardian of the child, or providing care or custody. Toppen knowingly caused physical harm or injury, the judge said.

While he did not find intent to kill or do great bodily harm, Bunce said Toppen knowingly created high risk of harm or death.

Toppen was arraigned Nov. 21, and since that date has remained in the county jail.

A GoFundMe page, “Lay Scarlett to Rest,” has been established to raise funds for the child’s funeral. 

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