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Baby sitter, 19, charged in death of St. Paul baby

The Ramsey County attorney's office charged Tyanna Jabree Graham on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in the death of a baby she was caring for in St. Paul. Photo courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.

ST. PAUL — A St. Paul teenager faces murder charges after the infant she was baby-sitting died of injuries suffered while in her care.

Tyanna Jabree Graham, 19, was charged Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court with unintentional second-degree murder in the death of the 5-month-old boy.

Police responded to a home in the 2200 block of West Seventh Street early Saturday morning on a report that a child wasn't breathing.

The boy was taken by ambulance to Children's Hospital, where doctors determined that he had suffered a severe brain injury. The boy's "eyes were dilated and he was completely unresponsive," the complaint said.

The child, Jamir P. Dunagan, died Sunday.

The Ramsey County medical examiner's office determined that traumatic head injuries due to "physical assault" that caused bleeding in his brain were to blame. The boy also had bruises and bleeding on his left lung and a cut on his lip.

"These injuries are classic findings for abusive head trauma and child abuse," according to the complaint.

When interviewed by police, Graham gave conflicting accounts, according to the criminal complaint filed against her.

First, she said the child had fallen from a couch and was having trouble breathing when she called 911, the complaint said. Later, she said his injuries may have occurred when she dropped him after tripping over a ball.

She eventually admitted being frustrated that she had to care for the child when she wanted to go out and might have "blacked out" and shaken him for 3 to 5 seconds while she was in that state, the complaint says.

Police examined her cellphone and found text messages sent Friday that illustrated her frustration.

One read, "I'm getting irritated my baby keeps waking up. He being a big ... crybaby ... I am been dealing with (this) all day I just closed the door but I still hear him and it's irritating me I never let him cry."

Graham has no criminal record in Minnesota.

She cried as she made her first court appearance on the charges Tuesday afternoon.

Her sister was in the courtroom, along with several of the infant's relatives, including his mother, Whitney Dunagan, according to Dunagan's cousin, Genevieve Hyatt.

Hyatt said the family is feeling angry, confused and heartbroken over Jamir's death.

"He was the happiest baby. ... He was always smiling, talking ... he lit up a whole room," Hyatt said. "He never cried ... that's why I don't understand how this happened."

She said she often watched the boy for his mother and wasn't sure why Graham was caring for him at the time of his death.

She described Graham as a friend of her daughter's and said she didn't know her very well.

Jamir was Whitney Dunagan's only child, Hyatt added.

"Sometimes she's out of it, sometimes she's crying, sometimes she's trying to smile," Hyatt said of how the young mother is coping. "She just wants justice for her baby."

Graham's sister Candice Kelly apologized to Dunagan's family as she left the courtroom after the hearing Tuesday afternoon.

She later told a reporter that she's shocked by the charges and hasn't been able to talk to her sister, who she said struggles with mental health and other issues.

She said her sister needs to have her mental capacity evaluated before the case moves forward.

"Never in my wildest dreams would I ever think she could do something like this. ... My sister loves babies," Kelly said. "If she did this, then she did a horrible thing and she will pay for it ... but she needs help."

The boy's death marks the third homicide in St. Paul this year.

'Preventable' tragedy

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi described the infant's death as an "absolutely preventable" tragedy.

"My heartfelt condolences are with this baby's mother and family as they grieve the loss of their child," Choi said. "This is an unthinkable tragedy and one that is absolutely preventable if caregivers only reach out to a counseling resource."

He recommended overwhelmed caregivers in need of help reach out to the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery at 763-591-0100.

The organization offers parents and guardians 24-hour crisis counseling via its hotline, in-person counseling at its facility, up to three days of respite care for children as their guardians regroup, as well as at-home visits to help parents and guardians overcome barriers to care for children.

The latter resources are available only to residents of Hennepin County, but staff at the center can help connect outside residents with other resources, said Jennifer Harrison, the nursery's development and communications director.

She added that the hotline is available to all.

"In this case, it appears the woman was escalating in some fashion. ... We would hope at that time, a (guardian) would call us and talk to us about what they are feeling so we can help normalize the situation ... make them feel like they are not alone, and talk about what is going on and what solutions are available," Harrison said.

The Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery is the only of its kind in the state and one of only 20 in the country.

The Minnesota Department of Health does not regularly track the number of children severely injured or killed from being shaken or suffering abusive head trauma, but it appears to be rare, said Susan Castellano, maternal and child health director for the agency.

The scant available data comes from hospital reports, death records and traumatic brain-injury registries.

"So of course, if you have a baby that you have shaken and only has mild impairment and is never brought to a doctor, then of course, we don't know about that. ... So how prevalent it is? It's really hard to say," Castellano said.

Shaking an infant or inflicting trauma to a child's head can cause long-term health impacts, including vision and hearing problems, developmental delays, physical

disabilities and death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Castellano said that the leading causes of infant mortality in Minnesota are premature birth, unsafe sleep environments and birth defects.

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.