WEST CHESTER – As punishment for “acting out” during an “emotional episode,” a Phoenixville father put his son in his bedroom and tried to keep him in against his will. In the process, however, he wound up breaking the 8-year-old’s left arm.
Now, turnabout becomes fair play.
Next month, Steven VanBuren Croce Jr. will begin serving a 30-day to 12-month stay in Chester County Prison, where he will remain locked behind bars for most of the day as punishment for the emotional episode he displayed with his son.
Croce, 36, who now lives in Collegeville, Montgomery County, pleaded guilty Friday as part of a plea agreement to misdemeanor charges of simple assault and recklessly endangering another person stemming from the January incident at his former home on Nutt Road in Phoenixville,
As part of Croce’s sentence, Common Pleas Judge Phyllis Streitel also ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation and to complete anger management and parenting classes. He is currently under a court order that limits the amount of time he can spend with his son and his two other children.
“This has been the most traumatic experience of my life,” Croce told Streitel during a sentencing haring in which his estranged wife read a poem their son had written about the assault. “I never intended to hurt my son. I understand that I did, and for that I am deeply, deeply sorry.”
Streitel, in accepting the plea, told Croce that his actions had obviously gone beyond just the physical injury to his son, who spent weeks in a cast and brace. “I think it is clear that you have caused a lot of heartache across the whole family,” the former Family Court master told the defendant.
The terms of the plea were worked out between Assistant District Attorney Priya DeSouza and defense attorney Richard J. Tompkins of Norristown.
According to DeSouza’s recitation of what occurred, and an arrest affidavit filed with the court by Sgt. Joseph Nemic of the Phoenixville Police Department, the borough police were called to Phoenixville Hospital on Jan. 24 to investigate a child injury. Croce had brought his son to the hospital with a broken left arm.
When interviewed, Croce told the officers that his “son was acting out and having an emotional episode” around 7:30 p.m. that evening. He initially said that his son’s arm broken when he attempted to lift him on a bed. “As he lifted the child, he heard a crack and realized the child’s arm was broken,” Nemic said in his affidavit.
The following day, in a follow-up interview, Nemic said that Croce said that he had lifted the child in a “bear hug” when the injury occurred. He said he had not jerked the child upwards, and had not grabbed him by the arm.
But when Nemic spoke to the child, he heard a different story. The child, whose name is being withheld, said that His father had walked him into his bedroom, pushing him inside and making him fall to the floor. His father left and shut the bedroom door, holding it closed so that the boy could not open it. Then, his father came back in the room, grabbed him by his left arm and leg, lifted him up, and threw him onto the top bunk of his bed. He said his arm twisted underneath him and broke.
On Feb. 26, Nemic spoke to Croce a third time, and Croce admitted that he had used his son’s arm to lift him onto the bed.
In her statement to the court, Emily Croce said she had witnessed Croce’s fits of anger and shouting before. She said the incident had been hard not only on her injured son, but on his brother and sister and her, as she has had to take over child care duties the couple has previously shared.
She also said her injured son had remained emotionally distraught over the incident, at times blaming himself for his father’s anger. “(He) is a very kind, caring, intelligent boy with a big heart,” Emily Croce told the judge. But “he’s been in therapy with two therapists since this crime.
“He is torn emotionally as he loves his dad and misses him, but is angry about what his dad did to him,” she said.
She also read the poem that therapist asked him to write about the experience. “When Dad locks me in a room, I get furious,” it read. “When he slams the door and stuff he’s probably serious. When I talk about it, it makes me sad. I am glad he’s gonna go to a place where he’s gonna learn not to be that mad.”
Streitel allowed Croce to remain free on bail until reporting to prison Nov. 5 so he can earn money to help support the family.