Bennie Harris Jr. appeared in court Thursday, pleading not guilty to charges that he killed his two-year old son, Benny Harris III last week.
Harris, Jr. explained the death to family members as an accident that happened during horseplay. He told relatives he was swinging his son around by his arms when he got dizzy and let the child go - slamming the toddler into a door accidentally.
According to Ned Caswell, the child's great-grandfather, the family is not buying Harris, Jr.’s story.
"I'm shocked, I'm shocked. I didn't expect anything like this to happen to a two-year old kid," he said. "There's no reason in the world for someone to harm him, they could not harm him."
An aunt said they were told by a social worker they may never know the real story.
Police received a 911 call around 7:20 p.m. February 19 from a man saying his son was "unconscious and not breathing" at 10210 San Diego Mission Road. The father was the only one home at the time, according to investigators.
Bennie Harris III suffered severe head trauma and was pronounced dead Friday, February 20 at 5 p.m.
Harris, Jr. was arrested in El Cajon three days after the child died when a medical examiner’s report stated the death didn’t look like an accident.
He was living at the Mission Valley apartment with the child and the child’s mother, but the couple was not married.
The mother was not emotional during Harris’s arraignment. She didn’t speak about her son to reporters outside the courtroom but did provide information about a memorial fund. Donations can be given at any Bank of America, designated to go to the Bennie Lee Harris III Memorial fund.
Family members said Harris, Jr. had been abusive to the child's mother in the past as well as past girlfriends. Harris, Jr. does have one felony robbery conviction for which he had served time, according to Deputy District Attorney Harrison Kennedy.
Outside court, Caswell talked his great-grandchild. "He was an active little boy," he said. "We had just recently celebrated his second birthday with a party in January, a month later he is dead." Caswell said the toddler’s father did not attend the child's party.
Harris, Jr. is being held on $1 million bail. He faces one count of murder and one count of assault on a child under 8 years of age causing death.