Crime

She didn’t want to whip grandson with a belt — but police officers showed her how, then watched

The cops told her to beat her boy, and she did

Two Tacoma police officers face a criminal investigation into possible child abuse following reports that they told a 54-year-old woman to beat her 9-year-old grandson with a belt, and watched while she did it.
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Two Tacoma police officers face a criminal investigation into possible child abuse following reports that they told a 54-year-old woman to beat her 9-year-old grandson with a belt, and watched while she did it.

Two Tacoma police officers face a criminal investigation into possible child abuse following reports that they told a 54-year-old woman to beat her 9-year-old grandson with a belt, and watched while she did it.

“They made me do it,” the woman told The News Tribune. “They said, ‘You need to beat this boy.’ ”

The woman said the two officers told her to get the belt, and one of them slammed it against a table for emphasis while telling her she had to beat the out-of-control boy, though she didn’t want to.

The June 5 incident is described in police reports as well as the grandmother’s account. The first police report, filed June 5, omits any mention of the belt and the beating. A second report, filed June 6 by the same officer in response to a detective’s request, gives fuller detail about the officers’ involvement in what they described as “lawful discipline.”

The details vary slightly, but the June 6 report states that the officers advised the woman to use the belt, and told her it was her legal right to do so. Two workers from Catholic Community Services also witnessed the incident, according to police records.

The officers have been placed on administrative leave, said police spokeswoman Loretta Cool, who would not comment on the allegations.

The Washington State Patrol is conducting the criminal investigation.

“We have received a case,” said State Patrol Lt. Randy Hullinger. “We’ll start from the very beginning.”

Hullinger said he could not give a timeframe for the criminal investigation, which is still in its preliminary stages. The News Tribune is not naming the Tacoma officers because they have not been charged with a crime or violation of department policy to date.

Hullinger said he could not give a timeframe for the criminal investigation, which is still in its preliminary stages. The News Tribune is not naming the Tacoma officers because they have not been charged with a crime or violation of department policy to date.

The woman, who has no criminal record, asked that her name not be used to protect her grandson’s privacy. The boy has the mental capacity of a 4-year-old, she said. He has a history of developmental problems, including a diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome. He and his 8-year-old sister were adopted by their grandmother seven years ago. The woman said she had never physically disciplined either child prior to the incident, and had promised the boy she would not.

The Tacoma officers were familiar with the boy from an April incident that led to an involuntary commitment, according to police records. The woman also said her grandson had been abused in May by a babysitter who choked the boy and threatened to kill him if he told anyone. That incident was reported to state Child Protective Services.

On June 5, according to the woman, she had left the house briefly to obtain prescriptions following back surgery. Two workers from Catholic Community Services, on hand for therapy, stayed in the home to keep an eye on the boy.

The woman told The News Tribune she was gone for about 20 minutes. When she came back, she found the boy had dissolved into a rage. He had locked the doors to the house, shattered dishes and glasses inside and broken several windows.

“He smashed the windows and he smashed everything he could reach, and he was bleeding and glass was everywhere, windows were broken, coffee pots were broken all the dishes were smashed and he had knives in his hands, butcher knives and he was bleeding,” she said.

The woman said she went into the house and asked the boy what was going on.

“He said, ‘I’m scared and I don’t want to hurt you,’ and he was bleeding,” she said. “He gave me the knives. I told him I was gonna come and take him and clean him up.”

Moments earlier, one of the Catholic Community Services workers had called 911. The two officers arrived at the back door of the home, the woman said.

“One of them was really a big man,” she said. “He and his little buddy reminded me of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.”

The June 6 police report of the incident states that the boy “sat on the couch and smiled” amid the piles of broken glass as his grandmother explained his behavior. She added that he could hurt her due to her surgery (she uses a back brace) and inability to move well.

The report states the woman asked police to take the boy to Remann Hall, the county’s juvenile detention center. Officers said they couldn’t do that, due to the boy’s age and mental capacity.

The officers asked if the woman had ever physically disciplined the boy. She said no, adding that Catholic Community Services workers told her she couldn’t.

The woman repeated that point in a recent interview with The News Tribune. She said she typically would hold the boy’s wrists and embrace him to calm him down, but social workers told her she could not.

The police report states that officers told the woman state law allowed physical discipline, and explained it to her.

The law, RCW 9A.16.100, refers to use of force on children. It states that physical discipline is permissible, if it is “reasonable and moderate and is authorized in advance by the child’s parent or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child.”

The law goes on to list a series of unauthorized actions, such as striking a child with a closed fist. It closes by saying the list is “not intended to be exclusive.” It doesn’t mention belts. The officer’s report states he keeps “multiple copies” of the state law in his patrol car, and has “given out hundreds to parents.”

According to the police report, the officers told the woman “she can use small items as an extension on her hand, due to her physical limitations and size. (One officer) advised (the woman to discipline (the boy) with a belt.”

According to the police report, the officers told the woman “she can use small items as an extension on her hand, due to her physical limitations and size. (One officer) advised (the woman) to discipline (the boy) with a belt.”

In the News Tribune interview, the woman recalled it more simply. One of the officers asked, “Do you have a belt?” she said. She did — it was part of the boy’s Sunday suit.

“I handed it to them. They hit the table with it very hard, very loudly,” she said. “They proceeded to tell me that I had to use my belt and beat my boy. They told me I had to, and they weren’t going to call an ambulance or anything.”

The woman said she looked at one of the Catholic Community Services social workers for guidance, but the man froze.

“The police officer said, ‘Don’t look at him. He’s nothing,’” she recalled. “We’re the ones you need to listen to.”

She said she pleaded with the social worker: she couldn’t hold her boy’s wrists, but she could beat him with a belt?

Again, one of the officers spoke to her.

“The little guy, the Barney Rubble of the two, he said, ‘This is what we do. This is what we do all the time,’” she said. “I said I can’t do it, I can’t do it. They told me if I didn’t do this, they were gonna call CPS, take the boy from me, and I’d have to pay child support and never see him again.”

The police report gives a more clinical account.

“(The woman) asked us to physically discipline (the boy), and we told her, ‘No.’ (We) explained that it was her child and she had the right to discipline him for his actions.”

The woman remembers the officers saying, “You have to do this.”

“And I did it,” she said. “I hit him with the belt. Of course my boy fought with me, because why wouldn’t he? I will never forgive myself. They told me to wait until he was sleeping and beat him in his sleep. They told me to hit him for every window that was broken. It was absolutely the worst day of my life.”

The police report also describes the woman hitting the boy with the belt several times. It states the boy swore at her, cursed and cried, threw a toy at her head, kicked at her and threatened to kill her.

“(The woman) pleaded that she fears he would kill her today or tonight,” the report states. “Due to her true fear of (the boy) and his clear dominance of the residence, (we) advised her we would involuntarily commit (the boy).”

He was taken to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, where workers noticed long red marks on his arms and back. The boy said his grandmother had whipped him.

The boy was taken to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, where workers noticed long red marks on his arms and back. The boy said his grandmother had whipped him.

A social worker from the hospital called the woman, who cried and said police made her hit the boy with the belt.

“They told me they would bring me up on child abuse charges,” she said. “I’ve never hurt a child in my life, ever. I told the social workers what (the police) made me do.”

The police report concludes with criticism of Catholic Community Services workers, stating they wrongly told the woman she could not discipline the boy.

“Catholic Community Services has done a disservice to (the woman), as they have subjected her to multiple assaults and advised her to do nothing to protect herself.”

The woman told The News Tribune that after the boy was discharged from the hospital, and after interviews with CPS, she arranged to have him visit a local farm for a few days and get away from the house and the city. The boy has since returned home.

“I will never call the police again,” she said. “They tried to convince me that this wasn’t violence. I said, ‘That wasn’t violence? Then what was it?’ They said, ‘It’s just discipline.’ These guys were really prehistoric.”

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