Sgt.: Man's story 'doesn't add up'

Kathy Hedberg, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho
·4 min read

Apr. 8—GRANGEVILLE — When Sgt. Michael Quintel of the Grangeville Police Department met with Forrest J. Pilant the day after Pilant had been arrested on felony charges of injury to a child and aggravated battery, the officer decided to lay his cards on the table.

Quintel told Pilant, who was seated at a table in the Idaho County Courthouse jury room and dressed in a black-and-white jail dungaree, that he'd talked to the doctors who treated the 16-month-old girl Pilant is accused of injuring.

"She had extensive injuries," Quintel told Pilant. "If she had not been treated immediately, she would have died." Quintel is a veteran police officer with extensive experience investigating child abuse cases.

A video of the conversation was played Wednesday before a jury of six women and eight men in 2nd District Court here. Pilant, 21, was seated at the defense table with his attorney, John A. Wiltse, of the Idaho County public defender firm of McFarland Law Offices. Pilant has pleaded innocent to the charges.

Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk A. MacGregor, representing the state, sat at the adjoining table. The alleged offense occurred Nov. 30, 2019, and Pilant was in jail Dec. 5. He later posted a $35,000 bond and was released from custody.

In the conversation at the jail with Quintel, Pilant continued to offer his explanation of the girl's injuries. In previous recorded interviews, Pilant maintained that he was giving the child a bath and she fell in the bathtub. The child's mother was gone for the day and Pilant was in charge of the girl and his own son, who is a couple of months older.

Pilant's story, however, had conflicting details. First he said the girl had been fussy all morning. Later he told authorities that they were getting along just fine before she fell in the tub. He denied harming the child, other than to say he gave her a "wake-up shake" to calm her down after she fell.

He also said the child had a tendency to bruise easily, and noted she had fallen down some steps at his mother's house a couple of days earlier. But then he said the girl had no bruises on the day of the incident and was in good condition.

Quintel, who had been leaving room for Pilant to modify his story, was having none of it.

"I want to be straight with you," Quintel said on the video. "Her injuries in her brain and her eyes are not due to falling in the tub. ... I've seen a lot of bruises in my time." Then, motioning toward dark and reddish marks on the girl's body, he asked, "Did you grab her? She took a hit in her abdomen. She didn't just tip over in the bathtub and sustain those injuries. What you're saying doesn't add up. I just don't believe what you're telling me, Forrest."

"No," Pilant said. "She tipped over and started screaming. I shook her to get her to come to."

Under cross-examination by Wiltse, Quintel acknowledged that he had not looked into whether the child's mother, Emilie Antilla, had a history of violence. On the witness stand Tuesday, Antilla said she had sometimes spanked her infant daughter when she was acting up but denied any forceful abuse.

Wiltse also pressed Quintel about whether he'd checked into other possibilities of how the child came to be bruised and injured.

After the jury members came back from a lunch break in which they were supplied Subway sandwiches, in addition to their $15 per day remuneration from Idaho County for their services, Kelby Wilson, a family practice physician with Syringa General Hospital who had first examined the child after she was brought to the emergency room Nov. 30, testified.

Pictures of the child's injuries showed extensive bruising on both sides of her head; red marks on her neck and chin; dark splotches on her torso, arms and legs; and she appeared to be unresponsive. Wilson said he examined her and noted swelling in her brain and ordered that she be sent by Life Flight helicopter to Spokane's Sacred Heart Children's Hospital.

Wilson said he believed the injuries had occurred only minutes or hours before she was brought to the hospital. But under questioning by Wiltse, the doctor acknowledged they could have happened up to a day or two earlier.

Testimony will continue today. Judge Gregory FitzMaurice is presiding over the case.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.