State Attorney Rules No Crime Committed When Florida Elementary School Principal Paddled Student – CBS Miami
MIAMI (CBSMiami / CNN) – Prosecutors have ruled that an elementary school principal did not commit a crime while paddling the buttocks of a six-year-old girl because the girl’s mother apparently asked to be disciplined.
The girl’s mother secretly recorded the incident at Central Elementary School in Clewiston on April 13 after the school called her to say that her daughter had damaged the computer equipment. The family’s attorney, Brent Probinsky, said the woman should take $ 50 to school to pay for the damage and sometimes kids would be paddled.
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Director Melissa Carter is seen paddling the 6-year-old girl while another adult holds her in a cell phone video recorded by the girl’s mother. In the video, after the first blow, the child starts crying and tries to move away from the adults, but the adult yells at the child to get back into position and hits them twice more.
The Florida prosecutor conducted a review and found no evidence that Carter had committed any crime. This emerges from a memo to the Clewiston Police Department dated May 7th.
However, Probinsky argues that prosecutors used flawed legal analysis to arrive at their decision.
In his memo, Assistant Assistant Prosecutor Abraham R. Thornburg said school worker Celia Self called the child’s mother to tell her that she would be charged after her daughter appeared to have deliberately damaged computer equipment.
The call appeared to be in Spanish, he said. According to Self, the mother said that her daughter had also caused damage at home and that she was “afraid that she will be disciplined by being beaten because her daughter threatens to call the police and DCF”.
“MS. Self explained that (the mother) then asked that the school beat the child for her, to which Ms. Self replied that she had to physically come to school, specifically request such discipline, and be present during the beating if she so wanted school staff to do it for her. According to both Ms. Carter and Ms. Self, then (the mother) arrived at the school and made that request, ”Thornbury wrote.
Thornbury said the video showed Carter explaining to the child what was going to happen and why.
“MS. Self and Ms. Carter then seem to try to position the child so that it can be beaten safely without injury. Ms. Carter then hits the child three times in a row with a wooden paddle on the buttocks. After the flogging, both employees ask ask the child to apologize to their mother and re-explain the reason for the spanking and explain that if she continues to misbehave it may recur. Both staff appear to treat the child and her mother with respect during this process . “
Thornbury said in the mother’s first report of the incident at the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office (HCS) on April 14, she understood that she would go to school to be present so school staff can beat up her daughter.
“She further pointed out to HCSO that there was a language barrier and that she was ‘confused’ and ‘did not understand the process properly’. CPD (Clewiston Police Department) made several attempts to get a more accurate and detailed explanation from (the mother) received but she didn’t return any calls from the agency, ”he said.
“It should be noted that, despite her refusal to provide law enforcement with an affidavit, while the investigation was pending, she made several statements to the media – one of which indicates that she deliberately” sacrificed “her daughter, because no one would believe what happened at school if she didn’t videotape it. Such a statement, which she knew all along the paddling would take place, is in complete contradiction to her original statement to law enforcement officers that she was confused and disagreed, ”he said.
Thornbury said the evidence indicated that “the child’s mother sanctioned and consented to caning her daughter as a discipline for misconduct”. The mother’s secretly taped video didn’t show she objected to paddling, and she could be heard later thanking staff, he said.
“A parent has the right to use corporal punishment to discipline their children, as well as the right to allow others to do so on their behalf,” he said. Thornbury said the evidence indicated “that any reasonable person in Ms. Carter’s position would have believed that (the mother) consented to the spanking as it was administered.”
Thornbury said there was also no evidence of Probinsky’s alleged aggravated battery crime.
“There is no evidence or suggestion of grievous bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement here,” he said, “that using a paddle to beat a child is unlikely to result in death or serious injury.”
“Likewise, the Florida law is clear that beating a child is not child abuse,” Thornbury wrote.
Thornbury said he reviewed evidence from the Hendry County Sheriff’s office, the Clewiston Police Department, and spoke to Probinsky to investigate the case.
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“Illegal and Criminal Battery”
In a statement released on Saturday, Probinsky said Florida District Attorney Amira Fox’s decision not to file a criminal complaint against Carter and Self was “based on a flawed legal analysis.”
“Most of us have seen the video of the horrific blows with a large wooden paddle of this little six-year-old girl who was three feet tall and weighed forty pounds. Fox’s decision not to prosecute these women was based on flawed legal analysis and they used the wrong law to determine whether a crime was committed, ”he said.
Probinsky said the Hendry County School District where the school is located had a written rule prohibiting any corporal punishment of students and that state law requires school principals and teachers to follow local school district rules.
“Headmistress Melissa Carter and her assistant Celia Self, who held this six-year-old first grader and paddled vigorously, violated the clearly written rule of the Hendry County School District and the laws of the state of Florida. Said Probinsky.
Several other Florida counties allowed corporal punishment, he said, and in cases in those areas the prosecutor would have to decide whether the punishment was appropriate and not excessive. However, that should not have been the measure in this case, as Probinsky argues that the punishment was not allowed by law.
“Paddling was illegal and a criminal battery,” he said.
“What message are we sending to other teachers who now believe that they will face no criminal penalties if they paddle our elementary school children with difficulty, even with the smallest violations?” he said.
Probinsky added that corporal punishment “is a brutal relic of the past and should be banned in all of our schools”.
Probinsky previously told CNN that the girl’s mother was confused about whether paddling was allowed. Probinsky said she was “scared and confused” when she went to school and secretly started recording.
The Clewiston Police Department received a request from Hendry Regional Medical Center staff the following day, April 14, at 1:31 pm that “a child with injuries was complained about while she was accompanied by the child’s mother who requested a police report was ”a May 2 release on CNN.
The mother went to the Hendry County sheriff’s office on April 14 to file a report, Probinsky told CNN. The HCSO has not responded to several CNN requests for comment. CNN was unable to obtain a copy of the report.
Probinsky told CNN he was representing the mother and child at their request and took the case pro bono. When asked if there were any plans for a civil lawsuit, Probinsky said they were waiting to see what the school board and prosecutor would do.
In a statement to CNN, the Department of Children and Families said it was investigating the “incident that happened at the Central Elementary School in Clewiston.”
Hendry County District Schools’ superintendent Michael Swindle declined to comment when reached by CNN but confirmed the district was also investigating.
“The situation is being investigated. At this point, we were advised not to make any statements.” Beverly Thompson, administrative secretary for the Hendry County School Board, said in an email on Tuesday.
CNN has reached out to the Florida Department of Education, which under its policy would either refuse or approve an investigation into the school’s staff.
“The department has a robust system for investigating allegations of educator misconduct and taking disciplinary action when allowed by law,” Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for FDOE, told CNN. “While educators are entitled to reasonable procedural rights, the department has a duty to ensure that appropriate disciplinary action is taken for the educator’s certificate.”
No charges have been filed in the case at the time.
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