The 7-year-old sneaked out of bed for a cookie. His stepfather now faces murder charges

Jack Montgomery
Jack Montgomery

Two of 7-year-old Brice Russell’s three brothers told police they saw their 6-2, 270-pound stepfather, Jack Montgomery, throw Brice around the Seffner hotel room; punch him in the stomach and mouth; rub his face into the carpet; and sling him by a leg so that his head hit a cabinet mounted high in a corner. During all this, Montgomery demanded they join in the Friday night violence.

The cabinet hit knocked out Brice. He never regained consciousness. His three brothers slept next to him. Hillsborough Fire Rescue found Brice cold and starting to suffer rigor mortis Saturday morning.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show that more than 700,000 children are referred to child protective agencies as a result of abuse or neglect in the U.S. each year. According to Purva Grover, M.D., a pediatric emergency physician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, child abuse is something that unfortunately pediatricians and emergency room physicians are always on the lookout for, but parents need to know the warning signs of physical abuse too, especially when their children are left in the care of others.

Montgomery, 31, sits in Hillsborough County jail on charges of murder in the first degree, aggravated child abuse, two counts of child abuse. Montgomery told police he only threw Brice onto a bed and the child hit his head on the headboard. Brice seemed OK afterward, said Montgomery, who denied beating the life out of the child or knowing that the child was dead before trying to wake him up Saturday morning.

He’d caught the child sneaking out of the bed to snag a cookie, Montgomery said.

These injuries require a greater amount force than those that would be sustained during a fist fight regardless of whether or not the assailant was a juvenile or adult. He determined the victim’s death to be a homicide, caused by being beaten by another person.

Analysis of Brice Russell’s injuries from Hillsborough County assistant medical examiner Dr. Leszek Chrostowski, as summarized on the arrest report for Jack Montgomery

The arrest report summarizes Hillsborough County assistant medical examiner Leszek Chrostowski’s autopsy findings thusly: “Dr. Chrostowski advised he observed multiple contusions on both left and right sides of the victim which were in vertical rows. These injuries are consistent with the victim being picked up by his sides, facing away from the individual lifting him. He further advised he observed subdural hemorrhaging and edema in the victim’s head which indicated cranial cerebral trauma.

“These injuries require a greater amount force than those that would be sustained during a fist fight regardless of whether or not the assailant was a juvenile or adult. He determined the victim’s death to be a homicide, caused by being beaten by another person.”

Montgomery’s past includes a conviction for battery and three other arrests for battery, one of which was for domestic violence battery. According to WFTS Action News, mother Donya Russell was at work. Montgomery was in charge of the four kids from 5:30 p.m. Friday in Room 205 at the Tampa East/Seffner Masters Inn, where the family lives.

While the state Department of Children and Families had no open investigations involving the family, there were two investigations in 2014 concerning conditions in the home and marijuana use. Both were “closed with no indicators,” according to a heavily redacted incident report from DCF.

Jack Montgomery picked the victim up by one leg and threw him into a cabinet, which J.R. described as being high up in the corner of the room. He described the victim was thrown so high he hit the cabinet, fell to the ground, and never woke back up.

Some of what “J.R.,” one of Brice Russell’s brothers, told police he saw, according to Jack Montgomery’s arrest report

One of Brice’s brothers, referred to on the arrest report as “J.R.,” told police he woke up the previous night to two sounds: Brice crying and thumping noises in the hotel. He described seeing the aforementioned beating being administered. He also said Montgomery told him to hit Brice and threatened to give J.R. some if he didn’t join the beating. J.R. said fear drove him to kick and punch Brice in the stomach and face. After Montgomery whipped Brice into the cabinet, J.R. said, Brice’s mouth and nose bled.

Brice’s twin brother, “B.R.,” backed up J.R.’s story, but said when Montgomery told him to beat his twin as the child lay on the floor, he refused. After the beating knocked Brice unconscious, J.R. and B.R. each told police, Montgomery washed his face and slapped him to bring him around. When that failed, he put Brice on the bed.

A hotel employee called police after midnight, alerted by a guest in Room 207 worried about the wife and children next door after hearing a man yelling things such as “beat the kid,” “push the kid over here,” and “get his ass up.” When a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputy went to Room 205, the arrest report said, Montgomery said the noise came from his music. He pushed the door open so the deputy could see children sleeping on the bed. The deputy left.

That was at 1 a.m. Saturday. At 10:57 a.m., Hillsborough Fire Rescue responded to a 911 call from a “Jack Montgomery” saying his 6-year-old son wouldn’t wake up and wasn’t breathing. Two minutes after arriving, fire rescue workers pronounced Brice dead.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal