Man who paddled son gets probation Assault charge lodged after boy is bruised by disciplinary act

September 03, 1998|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

A Columbia man who paddled his 12-year-old son for being suspended from school, causing bruises on the child's body, pleaded guilty yesterday to criminal assault and was given probation.

Raymond A. Burke struck his son several times in January with what police described as a "fraternity paddle" -- a flat wooden stick about 27 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide.

He confronted the child about being suspended, told him to lie across a bed and struck him on the buttocks, according to police reports.

After the fourth blow, the boy began to run away and his father continued to hit him. The child reached the house of a neighbor, who called police.

The child had bruises on his buttocks, right arm and hand and the fronts of his legs, according to police reports. Prosecutors said a combination of factors -- the paddle, the bruises, the areas of the body that were injured -- made the incident an assault, not simply discipline.

"The law does not say that parents cannot do physical discipline," said Marna McLendon, Howard County state's attorney. "But by the time we have a physical injury, we look at it much more seriously."

Burke, 48, was originally charged with felony child abuse, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

But prosecutors dropped that charge after Burke agreed to confess to misdemeanor assault and serve a year of supervised probation. He also was fined $250.

Howard County prosecuted 22 felony child abuse cases last year, and most involved parents who claimed to be disciplining their children, prosecutors said.

"A hand to the behind, even if it leaves a red mark, is very different than a paddle. And if it's used [on] other places on the body, that discipline starts to become something abusive," McLendon said. "We're not prosecuting discipline, but we'll charge a parent with physical child abuse if the circumstances warrant it."

Burke has not seen his son since the incident. The child was placed in a foster home and is now living with his mother and attending school in New York City.

Burke, who has remarried, has no criminal record and was described by his attorney as an active volunteer at Oakland Mills Middle School, which his son attended.

He is an environmental consultant and a member of a local gospel group, she said. He could not be reached for comment after yesterday's court appearance.

Assistant State's Attorney Christine Gage told Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney that prosecutors agreed not to seek a jail sentence after talking with the child.

"There was bruising, the child was frightened," Gage said in court.

"It was clear to me that [the child] wanted his father to admit what he did was wrong, but did not want his father to go to jail."

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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