Arundel school pastor accused of beating pupil, 8, with a board

Odenton Christian's corporal policy at issue

April 05, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt and Johnathon E. Briggs | Laura Barnhardt and Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

The pastor of Odenton Baptist Church has been charged with child abuse and assault in the punishment of an 8-year-old pupil at its school nearly three weeks ago.

The Rev. Timothy L. Yetter, 42, was served with a criminal summons yesterday - the second time that an administrator at Odenton Christian School has been accused of abuse. The case also puts the private school's corporal approach to discipline under public scrutiny.

It occurs as the school deals with other legal problems - a lawsuit filed by a former teacher alleging discriminatory employment practices, and a threat of closure by the county for alleged violations of fire and safety codes, including overcrowding in classrooms and unsanitary conditions.

Today, Odenton Christian School administrators are scheduled to meet with county officials to discuss safety conditions.

According to a police report and charging documents filed in District Court, the boy said Yetter gave him a choice for his punishment on March 16: board or sword.

The child told his parents he thought the pastor was going to cut off his arms with a sword, and chose the alternative - alleging that a board was used to hit him on the buttocks 15 times.

That evening, the boy's father discovered severe bruising and the boy's mother took him to Kimbrough Ambulatory Hospital in Fort Meade, police said. The attending physician said the bruising was consistent with abuse, according to police reports.

Police obtained a search warrant and, in a raid at Yetter's office, seized as evidence a sword and a foot-wide, 26-inch-long wooden board that the boy said was used as a paddle. The boy told police Yetter hit him with the board for disobeying his teacher.

School officials said they had no comment about the charges against Yetter. His lawyer, Joseph F. Devlin, said he could not discuss the case until he sees a copy of the charging documents.

Corporal punishment is part of the school's disciplinary policy, which forbids teachers from shouting or raising their voices but permits paddling in certain circumstances. Parents sign releases to allow the paddling.

According to a copy of the policy obtained by The Sun, the school director is supposed to talk with the pupil to make sure he or she understands and admits to the offense and then prays with the child - who is to be paddled three times on the posterior in the presence of another staff member.

Parents learned of the abuse charge yesterday afternoon, shortly after it was announced by police. Several acknowledged signing releases to allow corporal punishment, saying it was required for enrollment.

But some were shocked at the allegation that a boy was repeatedly struck with a large board by the pastor.

"A building code violation is one thing, but abuse is another," one mother said.

Many parents said they were unaware that similar charges had been brought in 1994 against the director of the Odenton Christian School, Thurston Eugene Pike, but were subsequently dismissed.

Pike, 67, who continues to serve as the school director, was charged in May with failing to comply with the county's fire code. Prosecution was put on hold in May, but the case has not been dismissed.

Yetter is the father of a son and two daughters. Another son - an 11-year-old pupil at Odenton Christian School - died in 1996 in what was described as a freak accident involving exercise equipment in the basement of his home on church property in the 8400 block of Piney Orchard Parkway.

Devlin persuaded a District Court judge yesterday to have the arrest warrant for Yetter withdrawn and reissued as a summons.

No court date has been set.

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