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Fargo girl's swollen lips lead to child abuse charge

Naser Gashi

FARGO - A Fargo man accused last summer of punishing a 4-year-old girl by rubbing her mouth so hard that police say it caused "serious swelling" of her lips has been charged with child abuse after police asked prosecutors to reconsider the case.

Naser Gashi was arrested on June 29 after Cass County Social Services notified police of a report of child abuse at a home in the 900 block of 44th Street South.

Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Mark Boening initially declined to prosecute the case, telling The Forum in July that the girl's injuries did not exceed what is permitted under North Dakota's corporal punishment law.

Ryan Younggren, also an assistant state's attorney, said he re-examined the case at the request of police, who did additional investigative work.

Based on before-and-after photos of the girl and information from her doctor, Younggren said it was clear "something significant had happened."

Gashi, who is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Thursday on the child abuse charge filed Jan. 31, plans to plead not guilty, said his lawyer, John Goff.

If convicted of the Class B felony, Gashi faces up to 10 years in prison.

Goff said Monday he was still trying to determine what had changed since last summer - other than the prosecutor - that would prompt the charge.

According to the police report, Gashi initially told investigators the girl injured her face while riding her bike, but later allegedly said he had yelled at her and rubbed her face with his hand because she had urinated on the bed.

Younggren said if Gashi rubbed the girl's lips as he said, "he would have had to do it awfully hard."

"In my estimation, I think he legally went too far," Younggren said.

North Dakota law states a parent, guardian or other person responsible for the care and supervision of a minor may use "reasonable force" in the punishment and discipline of a child.

However, the force used "must not create a substantial risk of death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement or gross degradation," the law states.

The police report states the girl, whose mother was dating Gashi, also had several other bruises on her face and neck and complained of left arm pain, which she said occurred when she slipped in the shower.

Gashi allegedly told police the bruising also happened when the girl fell off her bike, the report says.

The girl's mother had left her in Gashi's care while she was out looking for an apartment. She didn't report the girl's injuries to police or seek medical treatment for her, the report says.

Police asked prosecutors to consider a child neglect charge against the mother, but she wasn't charged.

The girl was taken into protective custody after the incident, the report says.