An Illinois man is facing felony child abuse charges in Baltimore County following the death in May of a 4-year-old in his care.
Baltimore County Police have charged Zurail Smith, 26, with two counts each of first- and second-degree child abuse and a misdemeanor neglect charge. Smith was arrested Nov. 9 and is being held without bond at Baltimore County Detention Center. An attorney was not listed Tuesday afternoon in court records as representing him.
Charging documents state Smith called 911 on May 5 to report an injured child. Police responded to an apartment in the unit block of Sollers Point Road in Dundalk, where they found Amir James with a large cut under his chin and his twin brother with other injuries. Both children were taken to an area hospital for treatment, where Amir was pronounced dead.
A detective who visited the hospital where the boys were being treated noted that the children had numerous cuts and bruises on their bodies and faces. The left eye of Amir’s twin was bruised and swollen shut, the charging document states.
Smith, who is not biologically related to the children, later told police the boys had been staying with him for about four months.
The children’s mother, Sharea James, had lost her house and moved into a hotel with her boyfriend but didn’t want her boys staying in a hotel, Smith said. The mother later told police she had left the boys in Smith’s care for about a month. She would bring them food every other day or so and said they were fine when she stopped by the morning of May 5.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Sharea James, said she did not personally know Smith.
“He was just someone I had watch the boys while I worked,” she said, describing him as a babysitter.
“I’m still at a loss for words,” James told The Banner. “I’m devastated. That was my baby.”
She said her other son is currently living with his father.
During questioning with investigators, Smith said he was playing video games in the living room when Amir fell off the couch. He said he heard a bang followed by screaming and that the four-year-old had hit his chin on a large metal and leather “WWE Championship belt” on the floor. He called police shortly after when the child became sleepy and lost consciousness.
A detective asked Smith if he ever wrestled with the twins, and he said he did. Smith said he would “choke slam” them onto the couch or body slam them but had not done so in the last couple of days. Smith said he told the boys to put their hands behind their heads when he choke slammed them so they wouldn’t hurt themselves, charging documents state.
An autopsy later found Amir had numerous injuries to his skull that resulted in severe and ultimately fatal bleeding to his brain. The medical examiner determined the injuries could not have been caused by another child or a fall off of a couch and likely occurred within hours or days of his death.
A celebration of life for Amir James was held May 31 at Joseph H. Brown Funeral Home followed by an internment at King Memorial Park in Elkridge.
This article may be updated.