Hailey Bannister lived in misery for more than half her life before she died last December.
During her short life, the baby suffered from broken bones, bruises and a brain bleed, which ultimately wound up being fatal.
The infant, who was born on Aug. 28, 2018, allegedly endured significant abuse from her father—a Ewing police officer and township resident—that began at least a month after she was born, according to documents filed in Mercer County Superior Court by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Her father, Daniel Bannister, 31, of Gilmore Road, was taken into custody on July 17 at the Wawa on Silvia Street by detectives with the Mercer County Homicide Task Force.
Catherine Bannister, 29, Hailey’s mother and Daniel’s wife, was also arrested. She was charged on the same day as her husband with second-degree endangering the welfare of a child.
Mayor Bert Steinmann, who also acts as the township’s director of public safety, declined to comment on the arrest other than to say, “It makes me sick to my stomach.”
During a detention hearing on July 30, Judge Peter Warshaw ordered that Daniel stay in jail until his trial. Catherine was allowed to go home until her case is heard.
The following details in this story regarding Hailey’s death are attributable to affidavits of probable cause filed by the MCPO in court against Daniel and Catherine. The document was written by Det. Roberto Reyes of Mercer County Homicide Task Force.
Law enforcement became involved after Ewing Township Emergency medical technicians and police were dispatched to the Bannister’s home on Dec. 5 in response to a 911 call from Catherine. She reported that the infant was “barely breathing” and “barely conscious.”
EMTs assessed the baby, who was not breathing at that point and in cardiac arrest. She was transported to Capital Health Regional Medical Center Hopewell.
Medical personnel there determined she had numerous skull fractures, a brain bleed, and multiple broken ribs. She was listed in critical condition and transferred from Capital Health to Robert Wood Johnson Children’s Hospital in New Brunswick.
She died on Dec. 11 after days in critical condition. An autopsy was conducted by the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office on Dec. 14, and the death was eventually ruled a homicide.
A report by the coroner’s office in May concluded that the infant’s cause of death was complications from blunt impact trauma of the head and subdural hemorrhage.
The office also ruled that there was a pattern of ongoing abuse. She had nine skull fractures—some of which showed signs of healing, which the report said indicated “multiple impact incidents on different dates.”
The injuries were to the bones on the back and right and left sides of the head.
There were also signs she had been traumatically shaken, and she suffered retinal detachment, and four ribs were broken several weeks before she died.
Detectives from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office Special Victims Unit and Homicide Task Force began investigating at the time of Hailey’s hospitalization due to the suspicious nature of her injuries.
In initial interviews on Dec. 5 at the hospital, Daniel told investigators that he was home with their 2-year-old son when he noticed that Hailey, sitting in her bouncer, had shallow breathing. At the same moment, Catherine arrived home to breast feed the baby. He said he told her to call 911, while he administered CPR.
He denied that she was injured while he was watching her and said that a possible explanation was that on Nov. 22, Thanksgiving Day, their son accidentally hit his sister on her head.
Catherine, in an interview with detectives also at the hospital, but separate from Daniel, said that she had taken the baby to the doctor several times and also the hospital during the week prior to Dec. 5. She said Hailey was diagnosed with reflux and given medication.
She also said that Hailey was a cranky baby and cried a lot.
Detectives also interviewed several other family members, including both sets of grandparents. None of them were able to offer a plausible explanation for how Hailey suffered her injuries.
Two days later, the couple initially agreed to give formal statements, but then told detectives they had obtained a lawyer and declined to proceed with the interviews.
Both parents’ cell phones were confiscated by investigators, who then obtained a warrant to search the contents of the phones and text messages.
“The cell phone examination identified extensive communications between Catherine and Daniel regarding child abuse by Daniel,” wrote Det. Reyes in the affidavit.
The first evidence of alleged abuse showed up in a text exchange on Oct. 4, when Catherine told Daniel that she noticed bruising around Hailey’s mouth, which she suspected was caused by his practice of using his hand to cover the baby’s mouth to stop her from crying.
On Oct. 9, Catherine texted a friend, a pediatric nurse identified in the court documents as A.S., expressing concern about the way Daniel was treating Hailey. During the conversation, A.S. told Catherine that she believed Daniel’s treatment of Hailey was abusive.
“In response, Catherine claimed she told Daniel he was abusive, and that he would not touch Hailey again unless he was educated on early childhood development,” said Det. Reyes.
A.S. made an offer to Catherine to leave with her two children and stay with her for awhile. In response, Catherine asked A.S. to not report Daniel’s treatment of Hailey to authorities.
At some point the abuse allegedly escalated. On Nov. 1, Catherine noticed bruises near Hailey’s left ribs, which led her to accuse her husband of gripping the baby too tightly.
During the same time frame, she took Hailey to a scheduled pediatric appointment. While there, she sent Daniel a photo of bruising on the baby’s midsection along with a text that said, “Hopefully doctor won’t see, we are there now.”
On or around Thanksgiving on Nov. 22—the day that Daniel claimed Hailey’s brother accidentally hurt her head—the infant suffered the significant head injury that ultimately proved to be fatal.
After reviewing Hailey’s medical records and speaking with her parents, authorities said they believe that Nov. 23 was the date she suffered the head injury.
“A further examination of Catherine’s cell phone corroborated that Hailey began vomiting excessively on Nov. 23, 2018,” wrote Det. Reyes. She continued to vomit into the following day.
Cell phone records also confirmed that Daniel was home alone with both children during the morning and early afternoon Nov. 23.
Also on Nov. 23, Catherine took a photo of a bruise on the baby’s head along with a text to Daniel stating that “she threw up again, a lot.”
Later that evening Catherine, texted Daniel a screen shot of concussion symptoms. He attempted to persuade Catherine not to take Hailey to the doctor on Nov. 24, but she ignored him and took the baby to a pediatrician.
Catherine told them that the baby had been projectile vomiting after almost every feeding, but she did not mention the bruises, her suspicion of a concussion, or improper handling of the baby by her husband.
She then took the baby from the doctor’s office to Capital Health Hospital. While there, she texted Daniel regarding tests that the hospital was proposing.
“Catherine’s text messages…clearly state her intention to refuse any diagnostic testing other than an ultrasound and certain medical intervention,” wrote Det. Reyes. “Catherine explained to Daniel that she will yell at the medical staff at if they propose any additional testing and that she just wanted an ultrasound and to, ‘stop with the other shit.’”
Cell phone records also confirmed that Catherine never raised her concerns with medical professionals in subsequent visits to the doctor on Nov. 26, 28 and Dec. 3.
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Daniel has been suspended without pay following his arrest and will remain suspended until his case is resolved. He had been suspended with pay from the department since Hailey died. Bannister was hired in May 2017.
Catherine was a kindergarten teacher at Foundation Academies in Trenton, where she started working in 2014, according to her LinkedIn page.
The Foundation board had approved extended paid maternity leave for her on Dec. 19, and in May, opted to not renew her contract, according to a spokesperson.