Ordinance: Could it lead to arrest of parent if child gets hurt at playground? Do using binoculars pose a form of harassment? - Must Read Alaska
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Ordinance: Could it lead to arrest of parent if child gets hurt at playground? Do using binoculars pose a form of harassment?

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An ordinance considered by the Anchorage Assembly to update the definition of “abuse of a child or vulnerable adult” lowers the threshold for prosecution of some child abuse crimes, and also makes harassment something broadly defined and easier to prosecute.

Whereas now, an adult could be prosecuted for intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly allowing a child to become injured or tortured, the new language says the threshold refers simply to “recklessly,” which supposedly includes the higher levels of “intention” and “knowing,” but allows a jury to focus on just one thing: Did the parent act recklessly?

The desire for the ordinance change came as a result of an egregious case where a mother had subjected her son to cruel punishment, and videotaped it so she could be on the Dr. Phil Show for a segment pertaining to angry moms.

“Beagley was prosecuted for this offense after the ‘Dr. Phil’ television show aired a video that Beagley submitted to the show. In this video, Beagley is seen punishing her seven-year- old son in two ways. First, Beagley made her son drink hot sauce and hold the sauce in his mouth while Beagley yelled at him. Following this, Beagley ordered her son to take off all of his clothes; she then forced him to stand under a cold shower,” the summary of the case revealed.

Read: Jessica Beagley vs. Municipality of Anchorage

Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel wrote that it’s doubtful that her office would prosecute a parent for an injury that occurred on the playground, even if it could be argued that the parent exposed the child recklessly to harm.

“This change makes the language of the ordinance cleaner. It also focuses a jury’s deliberation on whether a defendant has met the ‘reckless’ standard which would result in conviction,” she wrote.

“Experience with jury trials tells us that additional higher levels of intent in code can distract the jury from the lower intent standard upon which they must focus. If a jury is focused on the fact that an act was not intentional, they are more likely to minimize the lower requisite level of intent of recklessness when determining guilt,” Vogel wrote.

“An example would be a parent failing to properly supervise a child playing on a playground who then falls and hurts themselves. This would be negligently permitting injury, yet it would likely not be charged by our office,” the city attorney wrote.

But “likely not be charged” is a pretty big legal loophole for some citizens, who critiqued the change.

Louis Imbriani, a member of the public speaking to the Assembly against the ordinance, said that the change doesn’t clear up the matter, if, as the municipality says, a child injury on a playground can still be seen as a result of a reckless parent not properly supervising the child.

“Looking at this at face value, it is not very clear,” he said. For someone like Imbriani, who works with youth hockey as an official and could be a “mandatory reporter” of potential abuse, “I feel that this could muddy the water and prevent people from reporting crimes in the future.”

Jennifer Anderson, an Anchorage parent, also raised concerns: “I will not raise my daughter wrapped in bubble wrap. The intent as laid out in the memo is to lower the difficulty for the prosecutors. I think we are innocent until we are proven guilty. When we remove the words ‘intent,’ when we remove the words ‘knowingly,’ you have just turned me into a criminal if I allow my daughter to walk down to the park on her own, as an exercise in judgment, growth, and development, so that she can become a responsible human by having an opportunity to make mistakes. I’m not being negligent.”

Anderson also objected to the new definition, “reckless disregard for any annoying effect.” She then took out a pair of binoculars and looked through them at the Assembly for a moment.

“There are some people who would be annoyed by those,” she said, referring apparently to Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones, who had objected to election observers bringing binoculars into the ballot counting area during the recent election. “Have I just committed a crime? Perhaps I have, according to this.”

The ordinance updates harassment by changing the level of intent from “intent to harass or annoy” to “reckless disregard for any harassing or annoying effect.” It shifts the focus to the feelings of the victim of the harassment, but leaves a wide loophole for someone to say he was harassed for anything he finds offensive.

Dr. Michael Savitt, a pediatrician, who has testified in child abuse cases as an expert witness, said he has seen every kind of abuse there is.

“I have seen things you don’t want to see in your worst nightmares. I have seen every kind of abuse that there is: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect,” he said.

“As I read this ordinance, I find it absolutely unnecessary. The laws are on the books to punish those who need to be punished. The prosecutors are more than able to make a case based on the examination of the child and interrogation of those involved,” Savitt said.

“We take this very seriously. What I find more than anything else here is there is going to be a government intervention between parent and child. I will tell you there are children who will say ‘You won’t let me go do this, well I am going to report you.’ This has happened. I’ve seen this happen already,” he said, also describing cases where neighbors wrongfully report on parents as a way to get even with them for something.

Assemblywoman Meg Zaletel said that people were reading the ordinance wrong and were stretching in their arguments about how the ordinance would be applied.

Assemblyman Kameron Perez-Verdia said the Department of Law had done a “really good job with this.”

Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel said the public testimony was full of “misinformation.”

Later in the evening, Dr. Savitt pushed back on what Vogel called “misinformation.”

“That is telling you that everyone who spoke here is a liar,” Savitt. said. “I for one am tired of being insulted because we disagree.”

The ordinance was postponed until June 22.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Wow, people were outraged when parents spanked their child with an open hand. Now a parent is can be charged with abuse when a child scrapes their knee. Let’s place the kids in a protective bubble place them in a sterile environment in front of violent video games

  • What ever the assembly is putting out, I don’t want any!

  • A child getting hurt while on the playground isn’t grounds for child abuse or endangerment of a child. It’s called life. Watching someone through binoculars can be stalking or harassment however if you’re standing outside their bedroom window and looking inside. If they don’t like what you’re looking at there’s always the option to close the curtains. I like the people watch when I go out but I don’t need binoculars to do it. I just find a comfy bench in the mall somewhere and sit down and watch everybody walk by.

  • How about egregiously subjecting them to brain washing by Marxists Propagandists by sending them to Public “Schools”? Or taking them to be groomed by Homosexual Pedophiles at Drag Queen Story Hour? Those should be considered egregious child abuse.

  • ‘ Misinformation’ is on of the catch phrases of the left intended to negate ‘information’. Given the awful woman (will not use the noun mother) who made the video of her child was indeed prosecuted – there are obviously effective laws in place. I would trust nothing coming from this assembly without extreme scrutiny and these efforts just do not pass the smell test.

  • One can hope that when the new Muni Attorney takes over they deem these actions by the Assembly in the Lame Duck session null and void.

  • Everyone bring and use your binoculars to all future assembly meetings and public meetings.

  • Back in the 60’s, the board of education referred to the paddle, which was not used sparingly to discipline unruly and nasty kids. And it worked, believe me. No need either for a mens rea determination of what mental state the parent or teacher was in during the enforcement of discipline. It was all “purposeful.”

  • OMG, the Anchorage assembly is such an embarrassment. Who comes up with these petty, idiotic ideas?

  • How are we supposed to control how others “feel?” To determine whether or not a harassment crime has been committed would depend on the perception of the alleged victim, not on any tangible action by the alleged perpetrator.

    God help us.

  • A lawyer’s dream. I taught my kids at a young age to shoot. They ride bicycles and horses without helmets sometimes. They climb trees and build tree houses, sometimes with power tools. They learn to weld and drive tractor when they are intellectually ready. One person’s ‘reckless’ is another person’s ‘learning experience’. Over the years, with many kids, we’ve had a broken arm (jumping off a bean bag), a broken leg (jumping off a chair), and a broken clavicle (slipping on ice), plus very few stitches.
    Childhood is an apprenticeship to adulthood, and as we teach our children, starting early, to always be curious and continuously learn, while appropriately mentoring them, we guide them to become responsible productive adults. Life is full of risks and if we take no risks we as a people go nowhere. Children need to be taught and to learn that life is full of risks and how to appropriately deal with them, learning from experience. Will Rogers said: “There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” I have all three kinds of kids (and the boys competed for the longest fence challenge).

  • The case of Beagley, I am betting she was a single mother, and her son was coming out of the Strong and Defiant six year old stage, the boy was trying his pattern acting out how insolent and mean towards his mother he can go. She is responsible for her actions and reactions. The single mother needs to take accountability for raising the child better than her own upbringing.

    You know whose more at fault before the legal professionals start stoning her is all the males living in her neighborhood who saw the two everyday and they did nothing to become a ‘dad’ figure for that boy encouraging and teaching the boy to love, honor, and obey his mother.

    She doesn’t have to be a single mother without husband. I have seen married women whose husbands were no more present than an absent dad.

  • Assembly member Zaletel said parents were reading the ordinance wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anchorage citizens for years have watched as well-intentioned legislation is passed at the national, state and local levels and then used in ways far beyond the original intent to prosecute and invade the lives of average people just going about their daily lives. Whether the unintended consequences are actually intended is unknown, but with this shifty gang in the Assembly, we shouldn’t take any chances.

    Zaletel, Perdez-Verdia and Vogel believe they are either much smarter than the rest of us and that their thoughts and opinions are the only ones that matter, or they think that we’re too stupid to understand what they are trying to do to us under the table. Zaletel, Perdez-Verdia and Vogel serve the Anchorage citizens, not the other way around. And they have either forgotten that or choose to ignore it.

    Either way, Zaletel, Perdez-Verdia and Vogel have to go.

  • Again, diction. The term “harrassment” heretofore has in statute and code literally had the word “sexual” before it; hasn’t it? Is this a new crime? Historically anything done in adult self defense has been assumed constitutionally to be legal.

  • Why is this Assembly constantly looking for “problems” to apply their “solutions” to? Because in their world government is the end all, be all to us and we common citizens, the great unwashed mass of humanity cannot care for ourselves nor our children. This us the same Assembly that want to punish women’s crises shelters for not allowing a biological man into the shelter!

  • You can’t fix stupid

  • Every time a liberal opens his/her mouth, somebody loses a freedom.
    This is just one step of many of taking rights away from parents. You’ve heard of the Harvard lady who wrote an article saying children should not be allowed to go to Christian schools because they might become indoctrinated? The left will not stop until they have total control of everyone and everything. The terms are very vague. They don’t want children playing on the playground without a “Karen” around to tell them to stop everything they are doing.
    “Annoying effect?” With some people that would just be hearing kids playing and screaming, etc., on the playground. You could easily find someone who is annoyed or offended by just about everything. Too many snowflakes around.

  • Still Laughing
    Peeing on the electric fence.

  • I’m old enough to remember the school teachers paddle sitting above there desk.
    You messed up, you got in trouble. Then when you got home, you got in trouble again.
    We all turn out ok. We worked hard, raised a family, built a house, played hard, enjoying the grand kids, show then the tough things in life. Don’t touch that it’s hot. Sometimes they won’t listen, so they get “ouch” they learned.
    Stop trying to tell us how to raise are kids, stay out of are life’s. Wait little Jonnie you need to put your Diaper mask on, to go outside in the fresh air to play. More stupidness.

  • Sounds like the types of laws one would use in order to set people up to be criminals on a whim.

  • Mongo’s comment is right on target. I know someone who emailed the entire Assembly re: Drag Queen Story Time at the Loussac Library, objecting to local government allowing the use of a public facility for such a purpose. As I recall, Riviera responded that he couldn’t think of a better use for the Loussac than that. The current Assembly – less one to two members – wishes to be the sole arbiter on what is abusive to a child and what is not. Another instance of them crossing one more line in the sand. Parents who take their young children to watch men dressed up as women, attempting to act like women while reading who knows what – under the guise of “diversity and inclusion” – are abusers. Yet, the Assembly chooses to look the other way while building a fence constructed of backasswards ordinances to keep the rest of us in line.

  • Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau are three areas of the state that have turn their backs on Alaskan values. When I was in elementary school l used to hunt by myself as did the other kids. We talked about it at school during show and tell. What happened is the influx of outsiders with liberal snowflake thinking. My father served in the territorial guard at 16 then the army during WWII.

  • A parent’s job is not to prevent their children from making mistakes, it is to protect them from harm, from injury. When you deprive them of mistakes, you shield them from learning.

  • This is more than just a ‘left’ thing. This is a part of the corruption in Child Protection Services (CPS), which is the deepest, farthest reaching and most dangerous in the history of government agencies, and is bi-partisan. This is so across the country – in every state. And, on the local level, every single individual who is employed at Office of Children’s Services (OCS) is willingly a part of it, and there are NO exceptions to that statement. And, evidently, so is the Anchorage Assembly.

  • If the testimony was based on misinformation, that means the ordinance was likely poorly written, thus misunderstood. Perhaps, instead of dismissing the testimony, they might take it as a wake up call to review the text, and update it so less people will misunderstand it.
    .
    Yeah, right. This Assembly will do that? Please, pull the other one.

  • Ask yourselves:

    1) Would my child ever accept a spanking from an adult other than me or my spouse?

    2) Have I told my child in no uncertain terms that it’s never OK for another adult besides Mom or Dad to spank him or her—no matter how badly he or she has misbehaved?

    3) Have I warned my child that some adults may have bad reasons for wanting to spank him or her?

    To see how important these questions can potentially be, please read and reflect on this press release:

    Jefferson County, Colorado
    Administration and Courts Facility
    100 Jefferson County Parkway
    Golden, Colorado 80419
    303-279-6511

    For Immediate Release – Apr 4, 2008

    Contact: Pam Russell
    DA Public Information
    303-271-6905

    Re: Michael DiPalma Sentenced

    Michael David DiPalma appeared today in Jefferson County Court and was sentenced to Intensive Supervision Sex Offender Probation for a period of ten years to life and two years in the county jail. The 33-year-old former day camp teacher pled guilty on January 25 to Sexual Assault of a Child, a class four felony.

    Michael DiPalma, who now lives in Centennial, worked at a Lakewood recreation center teaching Elementary Engineering Using Lego and Elementary Robotics Using Lego in July 2006. One of the students, an 8-year-old boy, was singled out by DiPalma. The boy was given a sticky note and told to make a checkmark on it every time he didn’t follow DiPalma’s instructions. The boy was told he would receive a spanking for each check mark. On July 27, 2006, when the other children were on lunch break, DiPalma lured the boy to his car and put him into the back seat. DiPalma then drove to the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex then climbed into the back seat with the boy. He put the boy on his lap, pulled down his pants and spanked him 20 times on his bare buttocks. The spanking left marks and DiPalma told him not to tell or that he would go to the boy’s house and spank him harder. When the boy’s mother picked him up at the end of the day, he told her what had happened. The family reported the incident to the Lakewood Police Department.

    DiPalma’s case went trial in September, 2006 but the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

    The jury heard evidence that in May 2006 DiPalma had worked for a company called “Computer Tots’, teaching an after-school class at Steck Elementary School in Denver. In that class he asked the second graders to vote on which of them should be spanked. He spanked at least two 7-year-olds before his employment at Steck Elementary was terminated.

    Court records also indicate that DiPalma had been accused of unlawful sexual contact of a child, kidnapping, and false imprisonment in 1999 in New Mexico. The boy and girl who were named as victims in that case were 10-year-olds and they did not know DiPalma. He was given a deferred judgment and probation.

    DiPalma was remanded to the custody of the Sheriff following the sentencing. He will be required to register as a sex offender.

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