Alabama Judge refuses to dismiss charge in paddling case
By Donna Thornton / Times Staff Writer, The Gadsden Times
Etowah County Circuit Judge William Ogletree on Monday denied a motion to dismiss a criminal charge brought against an Attalla school administrator in connection with the paddling of a 12-year-old last year.
Nathan Ayers, assistant principal at Etowah Middle School, was charged with child abuse after a paddling in September allegedly left a boy’s buttocks badly bruised.
Defense attorney Shaun Malone, along with attorneys Teresa Petelos and Attalla Board of Education attorney Jim Turnbach, argued that Alabama law gives educators and school administrators absolute immunity from civil and criminal liability related to disciplining students.
Ogletree refused to drop the criminal charge and set a trial date of Aug. 27.
The boy was paddled after a teacher witnessed and reported him for making an obscene gesture. The boy was given a choice of paddling or detention and chose the paddling; even after receiving one of two licks, he was given a choice to take half of the detention time, and chose again to take the second lick, according to testimony at a hearing last month.
During that hearing, Etowah County District Attorney Jody Willoughby, Chief Deputy DA Marcus Reid and Deputy DA Carol Griffith argued that had teachers or administrators seen the kind of bruising left by the paddling and suspected it was done by a parent, they would have been required to report it to authorities.
Attalla police became involved in the investigation after a school nurse suggested the incident be reported, after the boy’s mother brought pictures of the bruising to school personnel.
Attalla Schools Superintendent David Bowman testified the incident was investigated and it was determined that Ayers followed board policy — including an attempt to notify parents prior to the padding, and having it witnessed.
Both sides said there was little legal precedent for this kind of allegation. Only one prior criminal charge was brought against an educator; there had been civil cases related to corporal punishment.
Malone said the lack of other cases was because of the statute giving educators immunity, as long as board of education policies were followed in administering the paddling.
Griffith said it was ridiculous to think lawmakers meant to OK paddling — no matter how badly it injured a child — as long as “you check all the boxes.”
An expert in child abuse testified about seeing the child several days after the incident, when his bruises had faded. Still, looking at the photos taken the day after the paddling, she said the injuries constituted child abuse.
During the hearing, Turnbach told the judge the law says “absolute immunity” and it should be interpreted to mean just that.
“No matter how badly a child is injured?” Ogletree asked, before instructing attorneys to submit filings and proposed orders before he made a ruling in the case.
Original Article: Judge refuses to dismiss charge in paddling case | By Donna Thornton / Times Staff Writer, The Gadsden Times