The father of a 9-month-old girl who died on Father's Day was charged Friday in Mille Lacs County District Court with 13 criminal charges relating to the circumstance's surrounding the child's death as well as a November assault.
Lance Marshall Ballinger, 23, 15820 Migizi Drive, Onamia, was charged with two counts of felony domestic assault, three counts of neglect of a child, three counts of endangerment of a child and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. These charges stem from the investigation of the death of his daughter, Tila Friend-Ballinger, who was pronounced dead Sunday at the Onamia hospital.
Ballinger also was charged Friday with third-degree assault, endangerment of a child and two counts of domestic assault. These charges stem from a November incident when Tila suffered skull fractures. She was treated at the Onamia hospital and then airlifted for treatment of her head injuries to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
Law enforcement agencies investigated the assault but no charges were filed based on witness statements at the time.
After Tila's death, the child's mother, Kelly Friend, informed law enforcement she wanted to tell the "whole story" about what happened in November. As a result, the county attorney's office filed criminal charges on Friday for the November assault.
Ballinger appeared Friday in Mille Lacs County District Court before Judge Steven Anderson, who set unconditional bail at $200,000 and conditional bail with electronic home monitoring with alcohol testing at $100,000.
About 7 a.m. last Saturday, Ballinger was released from the Mille Lacs jail after serving nearly two months for violation of domestic abuse/no contact order, gross misdemeanor DUI and misdemeanor domestic assault. The domestic assault victim was Friend.
As a result of that sentence, he was to have no contact with Friend unless approved by probation officers.
In the less than 24 hours between Ballinger's release from jail and the death of his daughter, he was involved in an altercation with Friend. He also became intoxicated. At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, Ballinger submitted to a breath test as part of the death investigation and was found to have a .201 alcohol content.
According to the criminal complaint stemming from Tila's death:
• Law enforcement officers responded to 17325 Virgo Road on a report of an unresponsive infant. Officers observed Tila was not breathing and had a bruise on her forehead. Friend, who was at the residence, said she picked up Tila at Ballinger's residence about 5 a.m. She said she had been at Ballinger's residence earlier and Tila did not have a bruise at that time. She left the residence and went home to the Virgo address about midnight. She said she had been consuming alcohol with Ballinger when they began arguing.
• Friend said when she left the residence, Ballinger was there with his 14-year-old sister, his two other children - a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old - as well as two of his friends, brothers Winston and Cheyenne Davis.
• Friend said Ballinger called her sometime after midnight and told her to come pick up Tila. Friend said she told him she wouldn't be able to until sometime after 5 a.m. as she didn't have a ride. When she did return to the Ballinger residence, she said she found Tila "on a bed in the same bedroom with Ballinger and that Ballinger appeared to be passed out so she was unable to obtain any information from him."
• Sunday morning, law enforcement officers were originally denied access by the 14-year-old to the Ballinger home. Concerned they may be investigating a possible homicide, the officers made entry into the home. They found Ballinger sleeping on the floor in front of a bedroom door. They also found the 14-year-old sister and his two other children.
• Officers found poor living conditions - the house was dirty and in disarray - as well as little food. They searched for something to feed the hungry children. "There were no clean dishes in the house. There were multiple alcohol bottles and cans throughout the house. Officers further noted that the children were filthy and smelled as though they had not been bathed for some time. (The 2-year-old) was in dire need of a diaper change and had notable diaper rash."
• In a statement to law enforcement, the 5-year-old said she observed Ballinger hit Friend in the face Saturday night.
• The 14-year-old sister told officers she "did not remember much from the evening because she had been consuming alcohol."
• Ballinger admitted to police he had been consuming alcohol and claims he went to bed at 9:30 p.m. He showed little emotion when officers advised him Tila had died and claimed he didn't know Friend left the residence with Tila.
• In a follow-up interview, Friend said Ballinger had assaulted her the previous night by punching her on more than one occasion and revealed a bruise on her right thigh. Friend said that Ballinger "is a completely different person when is consuming alcohol."
According to the criminal complaint stemming from the Nov. 5 assault:
• Friend initially told law enforcement her 17-month-old child pulled Tila off the couch and she wasn't quick enough to stop it. She said she was the only one present with her two children at the time in the apartment.
• Law enforcement officials obtained surveillance footage of the hallway in the apartment building, which showed that there were other people present in the apartment, including Ballinger.
• As a result, officers questioned Friend again. She said that she was scared that her children would be taken away and that was why she said her 17-month-old pulled Tila off the couch. She then said Ballinger and her brother, Derek Holm, 18, had been in a physical altercation in the apartment, that she had been holding Tila when she tried to break up the fight and that in doing so dropped Tila.
• Ballinger, at that time, denied knowing what happened to Tila. He said Friend left the apartment with her mom and Tila and he left to go to the Purple Doors bar. He said Friend returned outside the bar and yelled to him that Tila was in the hospital. He briefly went to the hospital and then went to his father's house, where he consumed alcohol.
• Ballinger's father, Dale Ballinger, told law enforcement officials that Lance Ballinger showed up "inebriated" about midnight at his residence. The father said his son told him he was there because he had been fighting with his girlfriend, Friend, and he told him that he had dropped Tila during an argument with Friend.
• Officers conducted a search warrant at the Friend apartment. "The apartment was extremely dirty and multiple items were broken and strewn about. Officers also observed that there was feces in the infant's swing that had not been cleaned up."
• On Monday, Friend gave another taped statement to law enforcement. She said she wanted "to tell the whole story about what had happened on Nov. 5. Friend stated that she had initially wanted to protect Ballinger, which is why she did not tell all of the details."
• She said Lance Ballinger and her brother had been drinking when her brother became angry after he recalled that Ballinger had assaulted Friend while she was pregnant with Tila. She said Holm and Ballinger began physically fighting. Friend stated that she was holding Tila during this incident. "Friend stated that Ballinger then pushed her or shoved her, causing her to fall along with the child. Friend stated that Ballinger then approached her and put his hands around her neck. Holm then intervened and began fighting with Ballinger. (Ballinger) then grabbed (Tila) but then dropped her again."
• Friend said she had already contacted her mother, Nicole Van Wert, after Ballinger had pushed her and she fell with Tila. She and her mom rushed Tila to the emergency room in Onamia and then Tila was flown to North Memorial in Robbinsdale.
• Holm, in an interview with law enforcement Wednesday, corroborated Friend's recollection of the November events.
Ballinger was not allowed a furlough to attend Tila's funeral, which was Thursday. He was sentenced Thursday on his probation violations to serve at least 15 months jail with credit for time served.
KATHI NAGORSKI may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5859.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.