A woman accused of using her 6-year-old daughter as an ashtray will stand trial later this month.
Sarah Michelle Ryan, 30, of Payson, is accused of child abuse and neglect as well as influencing a witness after reportedly telling her daughter to lie to officers.
Ryan reportedly burnt her daughter with cigarettes in 2011, leaving her with burn marks all over her body.
When Payson Police Det. Mike Varga asked the girl how she got her “owies,” she replied, “Mommy burns me.”
Ryan has maintained her innocence, telling officers her daughter got the marks from the monkey bars at school, bug bites and picking at scratches.
If convicted, Ryan could face prison time or probation, said Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores.
In September of 2011, Payson Elementary School officials called police after the girl told her teacher her mother had burned her with cigarettes, according to a police report. The school reportedly grew suspicious of the girl’s marks when another parent anonymously reported the girl told her daughter at the bus stop about the burns.
When the girl’s teacher asked about it, the girl said her mother holds cigarettes on her. Police initially cited and released Ryan.
Months later, in March, school officials summoned police to PES again to report that Ryan had spoken to her daughter by phone, possibly violating a no-contact order from a judge.
Reportedly, the girl’s grandmother, Tammy Lamb, went to the school and let her daughter speak to the child on the phone during break. Officers then talked to the girl, who told them her mother said she had gotten her a puppy named Pete, according to the police report.
The girl also said her grandmother told her that Ryan had not burned her and that the marks came from playing on the monkey bars.
Lamb later denied making those remarks, insisting she’d told her granddaughter to tell Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill the “truth.”
When Varga questioned Ryan, she said she believed her daughter’s injuries came from picking old scabs.
Furthermore, she said she does not smoke anymore.
When Varga questioned Ryan about her use of pain medications, Ryan reportedly got so infuriated Varga had to restrain her to get her into a holding cell.
With Ryan locked up, officers got a warrant and searched her home. What they found contradicted her claims.
Varga noted in the police report that the home was filthy, with six inches of dirty clothes and debris stacked up. Dirty dishes sat on Ryan’s bed along with several loose cigarettes.
Varga also found an unsecured toolbox near her bed filled with prescription pain medications written out to Ryan.
“The most concerning issue was that these medications were within easy reach of children if they entered the bedroom,” Varga wrote. “Also, on the north side of the bed, there was a trash can approximately two feet high that contained a large amount of cigarette butts and ash, commonly associated with the cigarettes.”
In her child’s room, Varga noted filth and a significant odor of urine.
Later, a doctor at Payson Regional Medical Center told Varga that burns had caused the injuries on the girl’s hands.
When a forensic interviewer questioned the 6-year-old about her injuries, she again said her mother had burned her. “When (child’s name redacted) was asked if she was afraid of being burned now, (name redacted) advised that she was not because she was really brave.”
At the end of the interview, the girl said she felt safe with Ryan.
As Varga waded through interviews and records, he questioned the girl’s therapist at Southwest Behavioral Health, Deborah Shewey.
Shewey told Varga that Ryan had told her, in front of her daughter, “that (name redacted) had lied to the police and that there were going to be consequences.”
“Based on my conversation with Ms. Shewey and her witnessing this comment, basically what I believed to be a threat ... I will request Sarah also be charged for influencing a witness,” Varga wrote.
Varga also reported other times the police department has spoken with Ryan.
Within an 18-month period, he found 11 police reports relating to Ryan and six Child Protective Service reports indicating potential abuse.
The police investigations included driving under the influence, domestic violence, sexual abuse, child abuse, shoplifting and child neglect.
Online court records indicate Ryan was found guilty of DUI and shoplifting twice.
When Varga questioned Ryan’s boyfriend at the time, a Tonto Basin paramedic, he denied witnessing any incident of child abuse. The boyfriend said that although Ryan does blow up at the children, she is getting better.
A forensic interviewer spoke with Ryan’s 3-year-old son, who told him that both Ryan and her boyfriend had hit him.
Two Tonto Basin firefighters/paramedics later came forward to say that Ryan’s boyfriend had admitted to them that he had witnessed Ryan putting cigarettes out on the children.
“He told her that he should have stopped that behavior because he was an EMT and he knew better,” according to the police report.
Despite everything, Varga recommended the children stay with a family member and not be put into foster care.