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Parents arrested in death of 8-month-old boy in La Mesa

Posted at 7:00 PM, Aug 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-27 19:47:27-04

LA MESA, Calif. (KGTV) - A La Mesa couple faces murder, assault and child abuse charges in connection with the death of their infant son, according to court documents.

Joel Brownell, 28, and Jalena Rodriguez, 30, are accused in the death of the baby, also named Joel, according to the documents.

The couple was arrested on Aug. 18, the day after their son was injured.

A woman who knows the couple told 10News that baby Joel was four days away from reaching 8 months when he was taken to the El Cajon Family Health Center. El Cajon Police determined the boy was injured at the couple's home in the 6900 block of Rolando Knolls Drive.

The baby had knuckle marks on his forehead and went to the hospital with a swollen brain. The child also had a dislocated arm and leg, the documents said.

"The infant had been brought in to the clinic by his parents with several suspicious injuries and was suffering from shortness of breath, so clinic staff summoned paramedics who immediately transported the infant to Rady Children's Hospital," La Mesa Police wrote in a statement.

The boy died from his injuries August 19.

“I never saw anything that would cause me to think something was wrong. They were always very loving, very happy, especially with that baby,” the woman familiar with the family told 10News’ Matt Boone.

The woman said Brownell and Rodriguez were homeless at points in their lives. Rodriguez was also a recovering drug addict, according to the woman.

“I don’t believe she relapsed. To me, the way she adored that baby and loved him, I don’t think she would pick up again and risk losing him,” the woman said.

The woman told 10News that Rodriguez called her on the day baby Joel was taken to the hospital. She said Rodriguez told her that Joel “was on life support and the doctors did not expect him to live, and he had a swollen brain.”

The exact cause of death was not immediately released by authorities, but court documents stated it was “by means of force that to a reasonable person would be likely to product great bodily injury, resulting in the child’s death.”

“This did not need to happen. There were so many other options and avenues out there,” the woman said.

Brownell and Rodriguez are each being held on $2 million bail.

If you suspect a child is being abused, contact the San Diego Child Abuse hotline.