Abuse Case Update: Mother Charged; Defendant Bail Revoked

NORRISTOWN PA – A 30-year-old Sanatoga woman, Emily Laster, was arrested Monday (July 25, 2022) in relation to the alleged abuse last year of her then-5-year-old son by her former boyfriend, 31-year-old Collingdale resident Steven Dougherty, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele announced.

Additionally, Steele stated, the case involving charges against Dougherty – who had been freed last week on bail – was reviewed Monday morning during an emergency bail hearing before county Court of Common Pleas Judge Virgil B. Walker. The judge revoked the earlier bail, and Dougherty was again taken into custody. He “is now behind bars awaiting trial,” Steele said.

The boy, now age 6, is living in the care of relatives, the district attorney added. He was removed from his mother’s care during November 2021 as part of a Office of Children and Youth safety plan, and has not seen either Laster or Dougherty in months.

The mother charged

Steele and Lower Pottsgrove Police Chief Richard Bell said charges were filed last week (July 18; Monday) against Laster by the township police department. However she was found to be out-of-state at the time, and an arrest warrant was issued. Laster returned home Monday and turned herself into law enforcement, Steele said.

The abuse allegedly suffered by her son was reported to the Montgomery County Detective Bureau on Nov. 19, 2021, after the boy was hospitalized at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Child abuse experts there, Steele noted, found injuries to the boy’s penis and scrotum; significant bruising and abrasions on the boy’s abdomen, chest, eyelids, arms and legs; and multiple bilateral rib fractures involving 14 ribs.

County detectives and the police, as a result of their joint investigation, found that while Laster had not caused actual physical harm she had a duty of care as a mother to protect her son, yet she continued to leave the boy in Dougherty’s sole care. Laster is charged with a first-degree felony, endangering the welfare of a child / violate duty of care (under 6 years old); and a first-degree misdemeanor, endangering the welfare of a child.

She faced preliminary arraignment Monday afternoon on the charges. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 2 (Tuesday) at 10:30 a.m. in Pottstown before Magisterial District Justice Edward C. Kropp Sr.

The bail review

Dougherty was arrested Wednesday (July 20) on charges of aggravated assault of a child under 6, endangering the welfare of a child, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person. Steele alleged physical abuse to the boy at Dougherty’s hands occurred over a period of months. Dougherty was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Albert J. Augustine, who set bail at $10,000, 10 percent. The defendant posted $1,000 bail and was released.

The Commonwealth had argued during the arraignment for $250,000 cash bail. After bail was set Steele’s office then requested, but was denied, a bail review hearing as part of the county pretrials services program. The denial set in motion its request for the emergency bail hearing.

“Judge Walker heard the disturbing evidence in this case, as well as heard our argument that defendant Dougherty posed a danger to the victim and the community,” Steele said. Dougherty’s re-arrest by county sheriff’s deputies “immediately” followed the judge’s bail revocation, he added.

A preliminary hearing for Dougherty has been scheduled for Aug. 9 at 10 a.m. in Pottstown, also before Kropp.

Assigned to the case

The case, Steele concluded, is being prosecuted by county Assistant Chief of Trials Lauren Marvel, who oversees the Family Protection Unit, and Assistant District Attorney Katie Kopecki.

  • Read an earlier story (below), published Friday (July 22) by The Post, regarding Steele’s initial announcement in the case.

County, Township Team Alleges Child Abuse in Arrest

NORRISTOWN PA – An eight-month investigation of alleged child abuse conducted by the Lower Pottsgrove Police Department, its Det. Daniel Kienle, and the Montgomery County Detectives Bureau resulted Wednesday (July 20, 2022) in the arrest of a 31-year-old Collingdale PA man, county District Attorney Kevin Steele said.

Steven J. Dougherty has been charged with aggravated assault of a child under 6, endangering the welfare of a child (duty of care), simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person, Steele reported.

The victim, the district attorney added, is the 6-year-old son of Dougherty’s girlfriend, identified as Emily Laster. His injuries were initially discovered during November 2021 when officials from the boy’s school within the township sent a state-required “Childline” report to law enforcement.

Dougherty was arraigned this week before Magisterial District Judge Albert J. Augustine, who set bail at $10,000, 10 percent. Bail has already been posted, and Dougherty is currently on release, Steele noted.

“This is a very disturbing case of physical abuse of a young child by the defendant,” Steele said. “Thankfully, the boy is now doing well in the care of other family members.”

Details of the investigation

On Nov. 19, 2021, Steele said county detectives were contacted to assist with an investigation into suspected physical abuse of a 6-year-old boy, who was hospitalized at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. An examination by hospital child abuse experts found injuries to the boy’s penis and scrotum; significant bruising and abrasions on the boy’s abdomen, chest, eyelids, arms and legs; and multiple bilateral rib fractures involving 14 ribs.

The joint investigation team found the boy’s school had made a Childline referral a day earlier, on Nov. 18, after the boy arrived there with pain in his groin area so severe that he had to be carried to the school nurse’s office. The nurse found the boy’s penis and testicles were enlarged, red (and) purple in color, and was ‘oozing a yellow color,’ Steele said. He also had dried blood on his leg as well as bruising on his back.

At the time, according to Steele, the boy reported his mother’s boyfriend “is a big, mean bully” and had bought him sneakers as an “I’m sorry gift.” Laster, he added, was called and told to take her son to the emergency room.

Investigators also learned that two days earlier, on Nov. 16, 2021, a 9-1-1 caller reported to Tredyffrin Township Police that the boy had climbed into her car and hid in its backseat in an attempt to get away from a man, later identified as Dougherty, while he was inside a gas station. Steele said the man got into the caller’s car, pulled the boy from the vehicle, then left the gas station.

The caller and another witness reported to police the boy said the man he was with was “trying to … kill me.”

Detectives found that the child had been seen previously during June 2021 at Children’s Hospital, brought in by the boy’s grandparents, who were concerned about his vomiting and diarrhea. The boy said fecal matter had been smeared on him by his mom’s boyfriend. However, Laster reportedly said the boy had an accident, and suggested some fecal matter may have unintentionally been transferred to his face from a towel.

The grandparents also made an additional report to police on Oct. 28, 2021, after seeing marks on the boy’s face. Steele said the child had told them “Steven” held his face under water, trying to drown him.

The county Office of Children and Youth, according to Steele, has implemented a court-approved safety plan for the boy that removes him from his mother’s home, and prohibits contact by the mother and “any recent past caregivers.”

Photo provided by the county District Attorney’s Office