Slain toddler’s father didn’t suspect abuse

The father of slain toddler Justyce Cheatham says he had been “blocked out” of his son’s life for months, but had no reason to suspect the 23-month-old was living in an abusive home in Baton Rouge.

Clarence Bumpas, a college football player from Colorado, said he didn’t know Cheatham had moved with his mother to Louisiana until the boy was rushed to the hospital last week with a fatal head injury.

The child’s mother, Jacqueline Cheatham, 21, and her partner, Tiara Dunmars, 23, both of 16441 S. Harrell’s Ferry Road, were booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison with first-degree murder Tuesday after an autopsy of the boy revealed a series of injuries and signs of continuing abuse.

“I had no idea, and it makes me sick to my stomach,” Bumpas said from Colorado on Wednesday. “I thought she was taking care of him and he was in good hands, but apparently I was wrong.”

Bumpas said he and Jacqueline Cheatham went to high school together and had been in a relationship when Justyce was conceived. When the relationship ended, he said, “she definitely cut me off.”

“She discontinued all contact and moved to Louisiana without my permission nor my acknowledgement,” he said.

Bumpas, who plays football for the University of Northern Colorado, said he had been paying child support and was considering seeking custody of the boy. He said he last saw his son more than a year and a half ago.

“I was trying to work things out outside of the court system because that takes too long, but that got nowhere,” Bumpas said. “I planned on doing it this summer during the offseason, but that didn’t work out too well. I guess I was too late.”

Jacqueline Cheatham and Dunmars have denied harming the boy and claimed he stopped breathing after choking on cereal, court records show. The autopsy, however, showed Justyce had suffered skull fractures, brain swelling and “closed head injuries with approximately 10 separate impact points,” the records show.

The child had older injuries to his ribs and above the ankles as well, which Coroner Dr. Beau Clark has said point to a pattern of abuse. Clark ruled the child’s death a homicide, caused by blunt force head injuries.

The death has taken a great toll on Bumpas from afar, said his aunt, Stella Ashe.

“He’s really upset,” Ashe said. “We’re just trying to keep his head on so he doesn’t take his aggression out on somebody that has nothing to do with this.”

Bumpas said he hopes to be able to bury his son in Colorado Springs.

“Trying to carry on has been the hardest thing,” he said, “but I’ve got a lot of family support and a lot of friends, so it’s getting better.”