Couple charged in newborn's death opted for ‘physical discipline' over custody of 2 other children

LANSING, MICH. - A couple facing criminal charges after failing to seek medical treatment for their newborn daughter could have regained custody of two other children this summer — but they refused to comply with a judge's order banning "physical discipline."

Joshua and Rachel Piland were charged last month with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of three-day-old Abigail Piland.

Police say the infant, born at the Lansing couple's home, showed obvious signs of jaundice after birth but the parents ignored advice from a midwife and Rachel Piland's mother that Abigail needed to see a doctor. The baby's Feb. 9 death was caused by conditions related to the jaundice, a medical examiner said.

Seven weeks after the infant's death, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials petitioned to have the couple's other children — two boys currently ages 2 and 3 — removed from their custody due to a "concern of threatened harm of physical neglect."

Ingham County Circuit Court Referee Megan Mertens approved the petition March 31, court records show.

►Related: 'God ... makes no mistakes': Warned baby could die, couple rejected treatment, police say

Rachel Piland's brother, Aaron Kerr, told the State Journal his sister's children were temporarily placed into the care of his parents, who live in Grand Rapids. The Pilands' parental rights could be permanently revoked but the case has not yet been resolved.

In an interview nearly a month after Abigail's death, Rachel Piland, 30, told DHHS investigators she believed she would hold her child again because the baby would be resurrected.

Rachel and Joshua Piland, 36, also said they understood the newborn's symptoms but chose to "believe in the word of God over the symptoms," court records show.

The couple said they're members of the Free Saints Assembly Church in Lansing and don't believe in medical treatment beyond basic first aid, according to the records.

At a review hearing in June, the two boys might have been allowed back into the Pilands' home — with numerous conditions in place — but the couple refused to comply with a court-ordered safety plan that would have outlawed "physical discipline of the children."

Attorneys representing Joshua and Rachel Piland did not respond to requests for comment. Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon declined to comment on either the Pilands' criminal case or the child protective proceedings because they are ongoing.

Officials were informed of Abigail's death after a relative in California called police several hours after the infant died, according to a transcript of testimony from Lansing Police Detective Peter Scaccia.

Abigail Piland appeared to be in good health when she was born Feb. 6, at the Pilands' home but the next day a midwife noticed the child appeared jaundiced and told Rachel Piland to seek medical treatment, the detective said.

"Rachel declined to seek any medical treatment for Abigail, stating God ... makes no mistakes," Scaccia said. "She indicated to the midwife that the baby was fine."

The Pilands continued to refuse medical treatment even as the child's condition appeared to worsen over the next two days, the detective said.

On Feb. 9, Rachel Piland found her daughter "lifeless and not breathing" in a bouncy seat, Scaccia said. When police later arrived at the home they "went upstairs and found a baby that had passed away and three other people praying for it," he said.

The Pilands are due in court Thursday on the criminal charges. The child protective case remains unresolved and the next hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Joshua Piland was a senior project manager for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation from 2009 until sometime last month, MEDC Executive Vice President Lynne Feldpausch said last week. She would not say which day was Piland's last, or why he left the agency.

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© 2017 Lansing State Journal


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