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Troopers Took Photos of Child In Abuse Case


Troopers Took Photos of Child In Abuse Case


LEAD: Ten days before she was found near death in a coma, 6-year-old Elizabeth Steinberg was questioned and photographed by the state police on the Gov. Thomas E. Dewey Thruway after a toll taker saw her with a bruised forehead, sobbing and alone in a car with her father.

Ten days before she was found near death in a coma, 6-year-old Elizabeth Steinberg was questioned and photographed by the state police on the Gov. Thomas E. Dewey Thruway after a toll taker saw her with a bruised forehead, sobbing and alone in a car with her father.

Law-enforcement officials said an account of the incident, along with the photographs of the child's bruised face, had been given by the state police to the Manhattan District Attorney for use in the murder case against the child's father, Joel B. Steinberg.

Mr. Steinberg, when questioned Oct. 24 on the Thruway about the injury, gave contradictory accounts, the officials said. He told the toll taker she had ''hit her head,'' and then gave her some candy to stop her crying. He then told the state troopers that she had ''a neck problem'' and needed only ''a massaging.'' Of this contradiction, he said the toll taker had misunderstood. Identified Himself as Lawyer

After identifying himself as a New York City lawyer on his way home from a court hearing in Albany, Mr. Steinberg was allowed to go on his way, but not before the officers took pictures of Elizabeth's bruised face and questioned her. She was quoted as saying there was nothing wrong.

A state police spokesman, Sgt. Robert Ost, referred questions on the incident to the District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau.

Mr. Morgenthau declined to comment on the account, which was supplied by officials who spoke on the condition that they not be named. These officials said, however, that the incident would strongly reinforce the prosecutor's contention that Mr. Steinberg had physically abused Elizabeth in the days before Nov. 2, when she was found battered and unconscious at her home at 14 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village. She died three days later of a brain hemorrhage without regaining consciousness.

In other developments yesterday, funeral arrangements for Elizabeth, also known as Lisa, remained incomplete, pending a determination of who should be responsible for them, and investigators pursued leads on the finding of drugs and money in the Steinberg apartment and the clouded circumstances of the adoptions of the girl and an infant boy. Change in Committee

At City Hall, Mayor Koch said the city's Human Resources Administration, which investigates child abuse, would begin including outsiders on a committee, now composed of agency officials, that investigates deaths of abused children and how the caseworkers had looked into their families. ''We have to make sure that whatever programs we have in place are in fact doing the job or whether they can be improved upon,'' the Mayor said.

In Family Court yesterday in Manhattan, Mr. Steinberg appeared at a hearing on a civil complaint accusing him of abusing his 16-month-old adopted son, Mitchell, a case in which the city is trying to have the child taken permanently from Mr. Steinberg and his companion, Hedda Nussbaum, who is also charged with Lisa's murder and the abuse of Mitchell.

Judge Jeffry H. Gallet adjourned the hearing until 2:15 P.M. Friday to allow time for Mitchell's biological parents and Ms. Nussbaum to enter the proceedings. Ms. Nussbaum is being treated at a Queens hospital for broken bones, a battered face and leg ulcerations believed to have been inflicted by Mr. Steinberg in repeated beatings.

While law-enforcement officials said Ms. Nussbaum was apparently beaten by Mr. Steinberg over many years, an autopsy and other evidence on Lisa's condition at death suggested that she had been subjected to abuse for at least several weeks, and possibly longer.

Aside from the recollections of neighbors, teachers and others who knew Lisa, evidence of the abuse has been circumstantial, and the episode on the Thruway appeared to strengthen the case by providing both eyewitnesses and photographs of the bruised girl.

Mr. Steinberg drove to Albany with Lisa on Oct. 24, the officials said, and there he and Robert I. Kalina, one of the lawyers now representing him in the murder case, appeared as counsel for two men being arraigned before a United States magistrate on drug-trafficking charges. Lisa had sat in the court quietly for almost two hours, the magistrate, Ralph W. Smith, recalled last week. Unable to Find Money

Driving to New York City on the Thruway later, Mr. Steinberg, alone with Lisa in his car, stopped at the Woodbury toll barrier near Harriman in Orange County to pay a toll. But, the officials said, Mr. Steinberg could not find the money and stepped out of the car to search his pockets further.

At that point, the toll taker, who was not identified, saw Lisa convulsing with sobs in the car and noticed a bruise or a welt on her forehead. He then asked Mr. Steinberg what was wrong and Mr. Steinberg told him it was nothing, that she had only ''hit her head.''

Mr. Steinberg gave Lisa some candy, apparently in an effort to stop her from crying, then found the money for the toll and drove on. The toll taker was concerned and suspicious, however.

''He thought maybe it was a kidnapping,'' one official said, ''and he took down the license number of the car.'' The toll taker then called the state police and reported his observations and the Steinberg license number. 'A Neck Problem'

About 25 miles to the south, near Tarrytown, Mr. Steinberg's car was pulled over by a state police patrol car. Mr. Steinberg readily explained who he was and the purpose of his trip, the officials said.

Asked about Lisa's injury, Mr. Steinberg was said to have asserted that she had ''a neck problem'' that only needed ''a massaging.''

The toll taker must have misunderstood what he saw and heard, Mr. Steinberg said when confronted with the contradiction, according to the officials.

They said the state police officers, suspicious, asked Lisa about her injury, but she was said to have told them that she was all right and that there was nothing wrong. After photographing the child, the officers allowed Mr. Steinberg to go on his way.

1987 Nov 10