Reserve deputy sheriff charged with felony crimes

Wanda English Burnett

Charges of Battery and Aggravated Battery, both Class B felonies, have been filed against a Holton man after authorities got together to decide his story didn’t quite match the injuries his infant child had sustained.

A warrant was issued for the arrest of Zebulan “Zeb” Hildebrand, 30, of Old Michigan Road, Holton. He turned himself in Tuesday morning, September 20 and was processed at the Ripley County Jail. He was then transferred to the Dearborn County Correctional Facility due to his connections with the sheriff’s office in Ripley County.

Hildebrand was in the process of becoming a reserve deputy for the Ripley County Sheriff’s Office. According to Sheriff Tom Grills, he had not made it through the training program, and so was not technically a reserve officer when the incident occurred. He said Hildebrand did give a letter of resignation although he didn’t really have to do so. Hildebrand’s brother is a detective for the sheriff’s office, and his wife is a jailer.

According to information from the Affidavit for Probable Cause filed September 19, Hildebrand told some different stories about what happened in August when his baby had to be taken to the hospital for medical care while he was in charge of his children.

Police were notified to investigate a report of physical child abuse by a social worker from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), where the baby had been transported from Margaret Mary Community Hospital, the first stop for medical help.

The social worker told police that the physicians at the center had concerns about what actually happened to the baby who was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at CCHMC with subdural hematomas and a liver laceration.

At first Hildebrand told police he was caring for his children, ages two, one and the infant when the other two ran past him, brushing up against him. He said he knew he dropped the baby and fell too, but couldn’t remember any details about how he fell or in what position he landed or how the baby fell.

He told the doctor he might have performed some chest compressions using just two fingers. He said the baby was lying on his back and was completely white, and did not appear to be breathing. Then he said after just one to two minutes, the baby began to scream and had his whole body clenched. He then called his wife, who was on duty as a jailer at the Ripley County Jail.

The infant had suffered a subdural hematoma on both sides of the brain, which is explained as bleeding between the skull and the brain. An abdominal CT scan was performed with it showing a laceration to the baby’s liver. The doctor told Detective Tracy Rohlfing of the Indiana State Police that the injuries were “out of proportion to the described fall.”

On the day after the child arrived at the hospital further exams were conducted with doctors saying hemorrhages pertaining to the eyes were “too numerous to count.” The doctor said those types of injuries were inconsistent with the story Hildebrand told about how the child was injured.

Det. Rohlfing stated in the Affidavit for Probable Cause that Hildebrand told him the same story he had initially told others, except added that he did shake the baby in an attempt to resuscitate him. The detective asked Hildebrand why he had not just told this story from the beginning.

At this point, Hildebrand changed his story again and told the officer there was no drop and fall. He said the other children were “running around not paying attention to what they were doing, making a mess.” He said, “(the victim) got in the way as he was mad at the two older children.”

He then stated he tried to catch and grab (the victim) and “shook the hell out of him”. He said the baby went limp and he thought he broke his neck from the shaking. He stated in the affidavit, “(the victim) was not breathing, he was out cold, there was no life in him whatsoever...(the victim) couldn’t do anything, no air, no form and no color.” He said when the baby didn’t open his eyes, he (Hildebrand) opened his eyelids and there was nothing there.

Hildebrand acknowledged in a recorded interview that he told the first two stories and to a certain extent the third story to protect himself.

The defendant said he wanted to “put out there that he shook (the victim) accidentally”. When questioned further by the detective, Hildebrand said it wasn’t something he was proud of, “It’s one of those things that you never talk about. It’s not something that you admit to.”

While Hildebrand said he was building his story around the medical facts he was being told, the true medical tests revealed the severe trauma injuries were not consistent with his initial explanations according to court records.

An initial hearing has been set for Monday, September 26 at 8:30 a.m. in the Ripley County Circuit Court with Special Judge Jon Cleary from Dearborn County presiding over the case.

Zebulan Hildebrand