Bond was doubled on Wednesday during a first court appearance for a father charged with murder in his 2-year-old daughter’s death after a 30-mile chase and SWAT standoff.
The original magistrate set bond at $1 million for Deontray Flanagan on Tuesday, though the suspect did not appear in probable cause court. However, the judge increased the suspect’s bond to $2 million during Wednesday’s hearing.
Prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said it’s possible his charges could be upgraded, as well.
The family of 2-year-old Zevaya Flanagan, including the girl’s mother, Kairsten Watson, told ABC13 they had concerns about their safety for several days before the standoff unfolded.
“It’s a horrible case. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, every mother’s worst nightmare, in this case, Ms. Watson,” Gilbert Sawtelle with the child fatality section of the DA’s office said.
Sawtelle said prosecutors asked the judge to reconsider Flanagan’s bond amount and increase it to $5 million due to the threat he poses to the community. Still, the judge decided on $2 million instead.
Defense attorneys argued that due to Flanagan’s financial resources, $5 million would essentially be no bond for him, which is unconstitutional in Texas.
On Monday, Flanagan allegedly picked up his daughter from day care before showing up at a nearby Walmart to confront Watson while she was at work.
Flanagan hit the mother multiple times in the face and left with her phone, driving off and leading police on a chase, which turned into a standoff in northwest Harris County, deputies said.
Prosecutors said Watson’s mother, the child’s grandmother, also worked at Walmart, and her cellphone was used to FaceTime the suspect during the chase.
The chase ended after he reportedly crashed into other cars and stopped in a field at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, sparking a standoff. SWAT officers surrounded the vehicle, and after about 20 minutes, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said they moved in. The toddler was rushed from the car by authorities and taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
According to charging documents, Flanagan hit his daughter with and against a blunt object and also choked her to death.
When asked why the father was charged with murder, Sawtelle said it could be upgraded to capital murder, pending the outcome of the autopsy. If Flanagan is charged with capital murder, the state could seek the death penalty.
“Right now, felony murder is the most appropriate charge without knowing more about the medical evidence. Once we hear back from the medical examiner about exactly what killed her, the charge could certainly be upgraded,” Sawtelle said. “It’s my suspicion that Zevaya died due to strangulation, which would not be the result of any sort of blunt force impacts that she sustained in the car, driving with the defendant. And if that is the case, that’s an intentional or knowing killing of a child less than 10, so that would be capital murder.”
Watson told reporters she’s haunted by her daughter’s last moments alive, which she watched on FaceTime during the police pursuit.
“She was on his lap, and she was gasping for air, and he had his arm around her neck squeezing tighter,” Watson recalled. “He said, ‘This is what you made me do. All you care about is that man.’ I (was) telling him, ‘No. Stop, please. This is your daughter. She loves you,’ and he’s still doing it.”
Prosecutors said screenshots from the FaceTime video show the injuries to Zevaya.
The little girl’s aunt was at a loss as to what the 2-year-old may have felt in her final moments.
“She was probably just thinking, ‘Why?’ Like, ‘Dad, what did I do?'” Kaci Watson said. “And she didn’t do anything. She didn’t do anything but love him and be a joy to the world, and he’s just an evil person.”
Watson is frustrated officials waited to move in when she says every second mattered.
“I am telling the officers, ‘Look at this FaceTime. Move in. Move,'” Watson said. “They sat there and said they have to get everyone ready, and they have to put on their shields and all this extra stuff like he wasn’t killing her on this FaceTime call. They waited at least 20 minutes to move in.”
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said they are also conducting an internal investigation to determine if policies and procedures were followed.
In a statement, they said, in part:
“The investigation will include a thorough review of the timeline, camera footage, dispatch communications, and radio traffic. Both HCSO and the Houston Police Department responded to the scene. Both agencies coordinate regularly and this review is being conducted to assess all actions taken and to improve future collaboration.”
However, that is just the beginning of Watson’s frustrations, saying she feels failed by police leading up to her daughter’s death. She said she called police several times just days before the murder, concerned this might happen. Watson added that she and Flanagan had recently broken up.
According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, they responded to at least two calls for service at the mother’s home. On March 15, they responded to a terroristic threat, and on March 19, they responded for telephone harassment.
“I told them over and over and over that something was going to be wrong,” Watson said. “They could have at least tried to find him, but even with his past, no. I said, ‘Are y’all going to wait until something happens to her?'”
According to the sheriff’s office, the responding deputy consulted with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and it was determined that there was insufficient evidence to support filing a criminal charge at the time. A welfare check was also conducted in an attempt to locate Flanagan, but all attempts to find him were unsuccessful.
The district attorney’s office told reporters no determination on charges was made. Instead, it shared a document showing more investigation was needed by the deputy.
The DA’s office said it didn’t hear from the deputy regarding the call they responded to on March 19.
We asked the sheriff’s office about the March 19 call, and why prosecutors weren’t made aware. We haven’t heard back.
Watson said she had text messages proving Flanagan threatened to harm their daughter and believes officers brushed her concerns off.
“They didn’t believe me,” Watson said. “They thought I was just making this up, and he was the father.”
Flanagan’s criminal history dates back to 2017. According to court records, he was charged with evading arrest nearly six years ago.
In 2018, Flanagan was charged with assault causing bodily injury to a family member and sentenced to 30 days in jail. During the same year, he was also charged with criminal mischief for driving a car into someone’s home. Records show he is still on probation for that charge.
A GoFundMe has been made to help the family with funeral expenses.