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Police: Boy who died at Scottsdale hotel endured ‘horrific’ abuse by grandmother

The grandmother called 911 late the afternoon of Sunday, saying she found the boy unresponsive in the bathtub in their hotel room. (Source: KPHO)
Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 9:09 AM MST
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SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – A Scottsdale grandmother and her husband are facing first-degree murder charges after her 11-year-old grandson, Chaskah Davis Smith, died at a Scottsdale hotel where they had been living for years. Police believe Stephanie Marie Davis, 51, had been abusing Chaskah and his 9-year-old half-brother for quite some time. She’s had custody of them since 2015.

Davis called 911 late the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 30, saying she found Chaskah unresponsive in the bathtub in their room at the Extended Stay America near Scottsdale and Osborn roads. According to court documents, she was doing CPR when officers arrived. Chaskah was pronounced dead at the hospital less than two hours after that 911 call. Police said Davis’s husband, 33-year-old Thomas James Desharnais, was there at the time and can be heard on the 911 recording. Police say he was well aware of the ongoing abuse of the boys but did nothing to stop it. While officers were on the scene, they saw another boy with an injury to his face and bruising around his eyes.

Detectives interviewed both Davis and Desharnais after Chaskah died and according to court documents, their accounts of what happened leading up to Sunday’s 911 call were very different.

What Davis said

Police say Davis told them that Chaskah “had been ‘hurting himself’ all day” and had a history of self-harm. She claimed he had hit himself in the head with a wrench while the family was watching a movie and then went to the bathroom and cut his genitals with a paring knife. She said she took the wrench from him and hid it under a mattress so he could not get it, and took the bloody knife to the kitchen and washed it. Police say neither she nor her husband did anything about getting Chaskah medical treatment.

According to Davis, Chaskah said he wanted to take a bath a short time later. She said she ran it for him and then left him in the bathroom. According to court documents, she first said he was alone in the bathroom for about 15 minutes. Davis later told the same officer she was only gone for 60 seconds. Court documents show Davis told detectives she found Chaskah on his side in the tub with his face above the waterline when she went back into the bathroom. Davis said she drained the tub, pulled him out, and started CPR. Police took over when they arrived, followed by paramedics. According to court documents, paramedics suctioned about half a liter of water (a little more than 2 cups) from his body as they tried to save him.

What Desharnais said

Desharnais told investigators that Davis had repeatedly abused the boys, both physically and verbally. While Davis said it never happened, Desharnais said the abuse had been getting worse in recent months, according to court documents. He went on to describe Davis’s behavior, saying she hit Chaskah in the head with a metal ratchet the day before he died. He also said he had seen the same thing at least four times before. Court documents outline further abuse Desharnais described. He said Davis regularly denied Chaskah food and water, sometimes for days, and often forced him to sleep in the bathtub.

He also told investigators Davis used needle nose pliers to pinch and bend the boys’ fingers and a wooden broom to hit them in the head. Court documents show that police found both pliers and a broom handle when they searched the room. They also found a paring knife and a wrench with what looked like blood residue on it under a mattress. Detectives say Desharnais told them he knew he should have stepped in but did not.

Davis’s initial court appearance

“The nature and circumstances of the events are frankly horrific, involving allegations of torture of children over a prolonged period of time,” the lawyer from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said during Davis’s initial court appearance Tuesday. “This defendant poses a danger to the community.” He then referred to what Desharnais told investigators, saying he “essentially confessed.”

Davis then asked if she and her husband could be represented by the same attorney. She said the evidence against her was “literally just circumstantial.”

“Those kids were always taken care of,” Davis continued before the judge interrupted her and warned her that anything she said could be used against her. “Be careful of what you say,” she cautioned. The judge explained she would order court-appointed representation for Davis and her husband but it would be up to the trial court to decide if they could have the same lawyer.

Davis then asked to talk to her husband. “I spoke to him [before the proceeding] and he explained to me that he felt like he was being coerced ...,” she said. “They were making him say things that he didn’t want to. That’s why I’m asking.”

Stephanie Marie Davis, 51, made her initial court appearance on charges of first-degree murder and child abuse Tuesday afternoon.

How far back does it go?

The allegations of abuse are not recent. In 2017, there was an investigation into potential child abuse after Chaskah’s school reported an injury. Police said there’s no record of the boys being enrolled in the Scottsdale School District since then. In a separate investigation into alleged disorderly conduct, Davis reportedly told police that she home-schooled the kids, but did not allow investigators to speak with them. Court documents say Scottsdale police officers were familiar with the family because they were known to panhandle near the hotel where they lived.

According to DPS, there were three reports regarding alleged child abuse between Davis, Desharnais and another adult. On March 22, 2017, DPS received a report of alleged child abuse by Davis. Officials say Chaskah had a bruise behind his ear and a scratch on his face. Allegations said Davis had hit the boy, but officials did not find enough evidence and the case was closed the next month. Officials say no services were offered to the family.

On May 15, 2017, there was another report of physical abuse by Davis, Desharnais and another adult. Officials said Chaskah had deep purple and red bruising under his right eye. Officials said they did not find evidence that Davis abused the boy, and the case was closed the next month. No services were offered the second time.

On Aug. 31, 2017, there was a third report of child abuse against Desharnais. Officials say a boy had discoloration to his forehead from Desharnais picking him up and throwing him. Officials say the family moved out of state during this allegation, and the report was sent to another social service organization. There was no evidence to support the allegations, and the case was closed several weeks later. DPS officials did not say if the child abused was Chaskah or his younger half-brother.

Police say both boys had cuts and bruises all over their bodies and severe injuries that were “in various stages of healing and scarring.” The younger boy is now in the state’s care. The Scottsdale Police Department recommended Davis and Desharnais each be charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse. Cash-only bonds were set for both -- $3.5 million for Davis and $1.5 for Desharnais.