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Teton County man sentenced in child assault case

HELENA – A Teton County man was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in Montana State Prison with 10 years suspended after assaulting a child under 36 months old in 2022, Attorney General Austin Knudsen announced.

Damon William Johnson-Payne, 25, pleaded guilty in November 2023 to assault on a minor. In May 2022, Johnson-Payne initially took the baby to the hospital claiming he rolled over on her while he was sleeping. Johnson-Payne later changed his story, claiming that the baby fell from the bed. As a result of the assault, the baby suffered from eight confirmed fractures, including a broken femur. Doctors also identified six more suspected fractures at various stages of healing, indicating that the baby suffered injury on different occasions over a period.

One doctor who treated the toddler told an x-ray technician who took the baby’s x-rays that this was worst fracture or break he had seen and that a break that severe could not have been caused by rolling on or dropping the baby. The x-ray technician also said she had never seen a break so severe. Ultimately, the baby was placed in a full body brace for about a month to heal.

In another instance a month earlier, Johnson-Payne admitted to investigators that while the baby was crying, he picked her up and squeezed her into his chest, stopping only because he was concerned the baby could not breathe. Doctors noted broken ribs which were consistent with Johnson-Payne’s account of squeezing the baby too tight.

Assistant Attorneys General Selene Koepke and Thorin Geist prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Teton County Sheriff’s office and the Great Falls Police Department.