LOWER PROVIDENCE — Calling it a “horrific and deeply disturbing crime,” Montgomery County prosecutors alleged a Lower Providence man sexually assaulted his 10-month-old daughter, who also sustained head trauma and subsequently died.
Austin Kamal Stevens, 29, of the 3400 block of Germantown Pike, was arraigned before District Court Judge Cathleen Kelly Rebar on charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, rape of a child, aggravated assault, aggravated indecent assault and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the alleged assault of his infant daughter, Zara Scruggs, on Oct. 3 at his residence.
Stevens was remanded to the county jail in lieu of $1 million bail to await an Oct. 13 preliminary hearing on the charges.
“This investigation into this horrific and deeply disturbing case is ongoing. It’s hard to imagine how this child’s death could be any more traumatic. Sexual assault of an infant is heinous, and then followed by the inaction of her father to save her life all led to this child’s death,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele alleged on Tuesday during a news conference outside the Lower Providence Police Department.
#MontcoPa DA Kevin Steele & #LowerProvidence Police Chief Michael Jackson announce arrest of township man, Austin Stevens, for allegedly sexually assaulting his 10-month-old daughter, who subsequently died.Story coming pic.twitter.com/cgmjUACSMO— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) October 6, 2020
While an autopsy determined the child suffered sexual trauma, the cause and manner of death are listed as pending while officials await additional forensic test results, Steele said.
“Depending upon what those findings are, there may be other charges forthcoming regarding this child’s death,” Steele said. “We’re waiting for the determinations to be made by the forensic pathologist. In a case like this involving an infant, there are further tests that need to be done.
“We’re going to await their call on this to determine whether more serious charges are going to be filed, although the charges that are filed right now could carry up to life imprisonment for the defendant,” Steele added.
Steele noted Stevens was an assistant football coach for the Lower Providence Warriors.
“If anybody has any information about other abuse at the hands of this defendant we ask them to please call Lower Providence police or the Montgomery County Detective Bureau and provide that information. As I said, this investigation is ongoing,” Steele added.
Austin Stevens, 29, of #LowerProvidence is accused of sexually assaulting his 10-month-old daughter, who subsequently died. Current charges include involuntary deviate sexual intercourse & rape of a child. Officials: Other charges could follow pending results of forensic tests pic.twitter.com/HqnoVd28EH— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) October 6, 2020
Lower Providence Police Chief Michael Jackson expressed condolences to the child’s family and thanked detectives, police officers and emergency medical personnel who assisted during the investigation.
“This is a particularly heinous crime. I would just like to ask that everybody keep this poor little girl and her family in your thoughts and prayers,” Jackson said during the news conference.
The investigation began about 10:40 p.m. Oct. 3 when township police responded to a 911 call for a reported cardiac arrest of an infant at Stevens’ apartment. Arriving officers found 10-month-old Zara Scruggs unresponsive and began to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective Michael Crescitelli and Lower Providence Detective Scott Dreibelbis.
The child was transported by ambulance to Einstein Medical Center Montgomery where, despite resuscitation efforts, she was pronounced dead at 12:12 a.m. Oct. 4.
During the investigation, detectives interviewed Stevens who stated he was home alone with the child and after giving her a bath briefly left her unattended while he went to the kitchen, according to the criminal complaint. Stevens allegedly told detectives he heard a “bang,” which he believed was Zara striking her head against the bathtub.
Stevens allegedly claimed he returned to the bathroom, removed the child from the tub, placed her on a bed and observed her head fall back and become unresponsive. Stevens claimed he searched the internet for “CPR” and attempted resuscitation and then called 911, court documents indicate.
Detectives subsequently obtained a warrant to search the contents of Stevens’ cellphone and determined he conducted multiple internet searches, between 9:27 p.m. and 10:22 p.m. Oct. 3, including the topics, “If baby stop breathing,” “How to give CPR to a baby,” “What if you don’t hear baby heart or beat,” “My baby isn’t breathing,” and “How do you know if a baby is dead,” according to the criminal complaint.
The internet searches, detectives alleged, were performed prior to Stevens placing the 911 call at 10:40 p.m.
During a subsequent interview by detectives, Stevens admitted conducting the internet searches, claiming he was “panicked,” according to the arrest affidavit. Stevens also admitted to using Instagram and text message applications to communicate with two unidentified females while conducting the internet searches.
“The messaging content did not discuss any issues regarding Zara or her need for emergency care,” Crescitelli and Dreibelbis alleged in the arrest affidavit.
During the investigation, detectives recovered a diaper worn by Zara during emergency transport to the hospital. Medical personnel found the diaper saturated with blood, according to the arrest affidavit.
An autopsy conducted on Sunday determined Zara “was the victim of a sexual assault and sustained blunt force head trauma,” according to the criminal complaint. Doctors found the child to have trauma indicative of sexual assault.
Detectives concluded that Stevens had sole care and custody of the child at the time of the alleged assault.
“During that time, Stevens physically assaulted Scruggs causing blunt force head trauma. Additionally, Stevens sexually assaulted Scruggs…,” detectives wrote in the arrest affidavit. “These actions were a continuing course of conduct that created a substantial risk of death and Stevens failed to provide a duty of care when the child was in need of emergency care.”
Officials said there was a custody arrangement between Stevens and the child’s mother.
“He had sole custody of the baby during this period of time,” Steele said.