Britianie Pace swore she’d only stepped away for 20 seconds.
That’s all the Gwinnett County mom said it took for her son to end up face down in the bath tub, not breathing, just days after his first birthday, according to documents from the Division of Family and Children Services.
The child welfare report, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request, provides new details about how the 1-year-old child ended up at the center of bitter legal struggle between his parents over whether he should remain on life support. The report also shows that the couple had a previous encounter with state DFCS officials after a domestic violence arrest.
Pace and the child’s father are at odds over whether to remove a tracheostomy tube. Brade Gilleland argues his son has extensive brain damage and should be taken off life support.
Pace, 23, opposes that, according to family members. Her attorney, Angela Kinley, said Pace has been denied access to medical records that would allow her to make an informed decision.
Police have said the charges against her could be elevated to murder if her son dies. For now, the child remains in the pediatric intensive care unit, where he’s been for more than four months.
Pace was arrested June 29 in part, police said, because she provided inconsistent information about what happened when the child nearly drowned. According to jail records, Pace was charged with second-degree child cruelty. She is out on bond.
The DFCS report shows that the mother of two called 911 about 10 a.m. June 10 and performed CPR with the dispatcher's help. The child had to be flown to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite when police and emergency service workers arrived.
But Pace left out of her 911 call that her 2-year-old daughter was found on top of the boy in the bathtub, a Gwinnett County police office wrote in a report to DFCS. She also was not truthful about her history with child protective services, police said.
Before their brief marriage, Pace and Brade Gilleland had a history of domestic violence in Walton County.
Both parents were arrested in July 2015 after a report of domestic violence. Records show that Pace was accused of punching Gilleland in front of their daughter.
Gilleland also had warrants out for family violence battery, criminal trespass and reckless conduct, but Pace tried to hide him from law enforcement, the DFCS report states.
Those charges were later dismissed, according to the file.
The couple married July 4, 2016, and were separated by that October. The divorce was finalized in May.
On June 8, Pace had put on a Georgia Bulldogs cheerleading outfit and decorated her home with balloons that spelled the child’s name.
Two days later, she discovered him in the bathtub, his lips purple and blue.
According to multiple reports in the DFCS file, Pace told officials different stories, varying in her versions whether the water was running and why she had left the children alone.
Pace told one official she walked about eight steps and was gone 20 seconds to grab a towel and lotion off the bed. To another official, she said she went for a diaper.
Pace “stated she was away for 30 seconds, a few seconds, 10 seconds, etc.” according to the DFCS report.
When questioned by a case manager during an unannounced visit five days after the incident, Pace was asked to recount what happened when her son nearly drowned.
She said she started the day by giving her children a bath about 10 a.m.
But she avoided a direct answer about how much water was in the tub, the report states.
She implied to the case manager one of the kids could have turned on the faucet.
Pace went on to tell the case manager it was so early that day that she hadn’t yet fed the kids breakfast. She laughed and said she didn’t even get to get her morning cup of coffee before the kids’ bath.
The case manager noted in the DFCS file that Pace was “making light of the situation.”
Pace’s father, Mike Stieb, has sided with his former son-in-law in saying that the child should be taken off life support.
Neither parent has custody of the children, but Gilleland has been taking parenting classes and working to get custody of his 2-year-old daughter, according to DFCS.