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FF Faces Charges After Disciplining Teen With Belt

The Middleton Press via YellowBrix

June 05, 2010

NEW HAVEN — A city firefighter faces felony charges for allegedly striking his 14-year-old stepson with a belt during a heated domestic argument.

The young man called police.

Dawud Amin, 35, was arrested May 24 after police responded to his home on Norton Street.

According to a police report, Amin and his stepson argued over a Bluetooth device that Amin suspected the boy had stolen. The argument got heated and Amin repeatedly struck the young man on the back and chest with a belt, leaving visible welts, police said.

Amin told the officers that he was disciplining the child and that he didn’t believe it to be excessive, but officers charged him with second-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor, both felonies.

The situation underscores challenges in law enforcement of determining when corporal punishment, which is permissible in this state, becomes a crime.

“This is not a black-and-white scenario,” said Stanley W. Konesky Jr., a retired police officer who trains recruits at the Connecticut Police Academy in, among other things, domestic violence and child abuse.

If you’re driving 66 mph in a 65 mph zone, it’s clear-cut that you are breaking the law, he said.

“This has a lot of gray areas,” Konesky said.

Clearly, over the decades, society as a whole has shifted away from corporal punishment, but it still remains a common disciplinary tool in many households. For years, many child-rearing experts have said spanking is ineffective and may promote aggression in children.

A recent national poll conducted for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan reported that one in five parents said they would spank their children in certain scenarios, although other polls show significantly higher percentages do so in practice.

In Connecticut, in and of itself, striking your child as a form of discipline is not illegal. According to state statute, a parent or guardian may “use reasonable physical force … to the extent that he reasonably believes such to be necessary to maintain discipline or to promote the welfare of such minor.”

The challenge is for law enforcement to assess what is reasonable.

Konesky instructs his trainees to look at the “totality of circumstances” when investigating reports of child abuse and cautions them to be cognizant not to infuse their own personal values into their analysis.

Officers must look at the circumstances to determine if abuse or neglect occurred that would require a report to child welfare officials. The determination of whether the actions are criminal, he said, comes down to a question of probable cause: Would a reasonable person find the level of discipline reasonable?

New Haven Officer Joe Avery said there is no simple blueprint. Every case must be looked at individually. What is the extent of injury? Is there visible injury such as welts or bruising? Was an item like belt or a spoon used?

“A lot of this stuff is not clearcut. It’s something you have to investigate,” Konesky said.

Criminal defense attorney Norman A. Pattis of Bethany represented a New Haven minister who was arrested in 2001 for using a belt to discipline two young brothers in his church with their mother’s permission.

He was later acquitted of assault and risk of injury charges.

“The Oliver case stands out as one where a man was acquitted for using corporal punishment on children that weren’t his own,” Pattis said.

Like police, Pattis said the extent of the discipline certainly matters.

“If it’s merely using a belt on a child, I’ll repeat what I said at the Oliver trial, ‘My mother ought to still be breaking rocks at Leavenworth.’”

Amin could not be reached for comment Thursday.

According to police, officers observed “visible welts” on the stepson’s upper torso and the boy claimed that Amin struck him with a belt and plastic tubing.

Police seized both items.

Amin, who is free on a promise to appear in court, is next due in Superior Court in New Haven June 15.


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