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Domestic CP - May 2004
Seattle Times, Washington State, 3 May 2004
Cop who spanked boy gets punished himself
By Michael Ko
By the time Seattle police officer Richard Roberson met him, the 8-year-old boy was known around West Seattle as a real troublemaker. He ran away from home so often his mother sometimes had to handcuff her wrist to his.
The boy would hop on Metro buses without paying and take off to places such as Enumclaw, Everett, Issaquah and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. One time, he tried to get to Mount Rainier. Another time, after his mother hid his shoes, he was found wandering downtown Seattle -- in roller skates.
"For some reason," Roberson would say later, "I felt after seeing this child, I felt there was some reason I needed to step in." So the officer became a father figure, helping the boy with homework, taking him to movies and even giving him his work cellphone number.
And when the boy kept running, Roberson did one more thing.
He spanked him.
Roberson's actions raise a question that isn't easily answered: How far can an officer go in doing his or her job?
Roberson is appealing a recent five-day suspension without pay for spanking the boy on at least five occasions, arguing that he was trying to solve a long-term community problem with good, independent police work.
The boy's mother said she gave Roberson permission each time to spank her child. To protect the boy's identity, neither the boy nor his mother is being named.
She said that before the spankings began, she and Roberson agreed he would take on the role of big brother and mentor to her son, who has been diagnosed with emotional and mental problems. The boy's biological father lives in another state.
"Both prior to and after (each spanking), he explained to my son what was going on, what he was doing wrong, like any parent would," the mother said last month.
"Yes, I thought it was having a positive effect on my child because there was a male figure monitoring him. He was trying to shape up; he had somebody interested in him."
Roberson, 50, is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army who is married, has three grown children and helped run a day-care center with his wife. He said he chose police work as a second career because he thought he could "make a difference."
Roberson and the mother say that because of their agreement, Roberson did not violate state law when he spanked the boy.
Specifically, state law says: "Physical discipline of a child is not unlawful when it is reasonable and moderate and is inflicted by a parent, teacher or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child. Any use of force on a child by any other person is unlawful unless it is reasonable and moderate and is authorized in advance by the child's parent or guardian for purpose of restraining or correcting the child."
Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske acknowledges that Roberson was well-meaning. But he said public perception of police officers is important, and Roberson created a potential liability for the city and the police department.
Although no department policy prohibits spanking a child, that kind of physical discipline is not acceptable police work, the chief said.
"A kid having problems can be very complex, and diagnosis and treatment requires far more training than any police officer has," Kerlikowske said.
The spankings started May 13, 2002, when the boy was 8, and continued through June 2003. The boy is now 10. His mother said he has matured and his behavior has improved in the past two years.
Kerlikowske disciplined Roberson for misuse of authority in December 2002 for spanking the child twice while in uniform. Roberson was suspended for two days. In July 2003, he appealed to the Public Safety Civil Service Commission, which upheld the punishment.
While testifying during the appeal, Roberson admitted he started meeting with the boy again in 2003 after being punished by the department. He said he spanked the boy at least three more times that year.
Roberson said the circumstances were different in those spankings because he was off duty and not wearing his uniform. Nonetheless, in February, Roberson was suspended for five days for failure to obey orders. The police officers guild has filed an appeal on his behalf.
Roberson declined to comment for this story, saying he didn't want to compromise his current appeal. But he said "nothing's changed" from the argument he made during his first appeal before the public-safety commission.
Tapes of that hearing, along with police-department disciplinary records, were released last month to The Seattle Times under the state's public-records acts.
According to his mother, the boy has emotional and mental problems, including extreme defiance to authority and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which have required counseling or medication since he was 3 years old.
She said she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it difficult to run after her son. In addition to the plastic handcuffs -- she received permission from state social workers to use them -- she contemplated buying a harness.
The mother testified before the public-safety commission that she approached at least eight agencies for help. The boy spent some time at the Seattle Children's Home, a mental-health facility for youth.
Cheryl Brush, a Seattle police community-service officer with more than a decade of experience with runaways, was assigned to the boy's case in early 2002.
She extensively documented the boy's behavior, contacted Child Protective Services and twice pulled together the boy's mother, teacher, counselor and other social-service providers for meetings.
Brush suggested "wraparound services," in which the state pays for a full-time, around-the-clock aide for kids characterized as society's least-manageable.
But the mother said most of the professionals didn't have good answers and were pressuring her to institutionalize the child. She said she didn't want to break her family apart.
Meanwhile, the boy's behavior was starting to keep officers from more pressing issues, said Sgt. Cindy Granard, who supervised patrol in West Seattle. And officers were becoming increasingly frustrated chasing the boy around the Puget Sound area.
A police report from May 12, 2002, the day before the boy was first spanked, describes what happened when officers found the boy after he had run away.
Officers contacted the county's juvenile detention and were told the boy was too young. Next, they called a juvenile crisis residential center in Seattle and were told the boy needed to be at least 12. Then they called the Department of Social and Health Services and were told DSHS is not a detention center.
After making a few more calls, officers took the boy home and dropped him off with his mother.
"My take on it, the kid was just bored," said Officer Shawn Swanson, who now works for the Federal Way Police Department. Swanson described the boy as "sharp," with advanced verbal skills.
"Any other kid would be satisfied riding his bike around the block," Swanson said. "This child is different. He had to go to the mountain."
Roberson testified before the public-safety commission that he met the boy in February 2002, while on patrol. During the next few months, he talked to the boy and his mother and became concerned about the boy's safety and the mother's mounting stress.
Roberson said he conferred with his wife, his sergeant and finally the mother and decided to take the child under his wing.
"I really admire the man (Roberson), because he came forward when no one else would," the mother said last week.
Roberson testified: "I told (the boy) any time you feel like you're gonna run, give me a call. ... I treated this child as if I was treating my own child. I told him there were consequences for doing bad and rewards for doing good. I told him I would punish him for running away from home."
On May 13, 2002, the boy ran. The call went out over the police radio, and Roberson was dispatched to find the boy. He rounded him up, returned him home, and "I put him over my knee and I gave him four swats on the rear," he told the public-safety commission.
The mother and Swanson were both in the room. Roberson told his sergeant, Granard, about what had happened. But Granard didn't tell anybody else and was eventually disciplined for it.
On May 16, 2002, the boy ran away again. Roberson was working an off-duty security job at a nearby Safeway. He told the dispatchers that he knew the boy and said he'd take care of the situation.
He testified that he drove the boy home in his personal vehicle, sat him down and explained that when he ran away, dangerous people might harm him.
Then he spanked the boy again, five times, hard enough to make the boy cry.
"Then I stood him up and told him, 'Now, do you understand why this happened? Is this gonna happen in the future?' " Roberson testified.
On May 18, 2002, Roberson was called into his lieutenant's office and told that somebody in the department -- not Swanson -- had filed a complaint about the spankings. The lieutenant told Roberson to stay away from the family.
Roberson argued before the public-safety commission that he had done nothing wrong. He said the department charges its police officers to be independent thinkers.
"Every day, someone says to you, 'Go out there and make a difference. Go out there and do this for the kids,'" Roberson testified. "I'm not a rogue officer. This is an officer who cares. If I'm going to get slapped down for caring, what's the use? That's the way I'm starting to feel about this whole thing."
Seattle Times, 4 May 2004
Seattle police guild questions rules on off-duty behavior
By Michael Ko
Ken Saucier, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, wonders what would happen if he were coaching Little League baseball in his spare time and he yelled at a boy who dropped a fly ball.
"Are people going to say, 'He's a cop; he shouldn't be acting like that'?" Saucier asked.
That question is something the guild wants to explore if the case of Officer Richard Roberson reaches an arbitrator, Saucier said yesterday.
The guild recently filed an appeal on behalf of Roberson, 50, who was suspended in February for five days without pay for spanking a now 10-year-old West Seattle boy on at least five different occasions.
Three of the spankings occurred while Roberson was off-duty and not wearing his uniform.
The boy's mother approved of all the spankings and said Roberson was a big brother and mentor to her son, who has been diagnosed with emotional and mental problems, frequently ran away from home and had a reputation as a troublemaker. The boy's father lives in another state.
Saucier said police brass has been inconsistent about what officers can or can't do in their private time.
"It's bigger than just this case," Saucier said. "What can we do politically, religiously? If I see a crime, am I supposed to respond to it or not? If somebody asks me for help, am I supposed to turn them away? Are officers not going to get involved because they know they're going to get in trouble?"
Seattle Deputy Police Chief Clark Kimerer said the rules are clear when it comes to questionable off-duty behavior. If the action involves any kind of "official authority," then the officer is held under the same standards as an on-duty police officer, he said.
Kimerer said Roberson, despite his good intentions, was punished for misuse of authority because he met the boy while on-duty in February 2002 and spanked him twice in uniform in May 2002.
Roberson acknowledges those two spankings but argues that when he spanked the boy the next three times, around June 2003, he was off-duty. Roberson believes at that point, it was clearly a personal cause.
Kimerer said it's irrelevant because Roberson's relationship with the boy began when Roberson was a police officer.
Kimerer said there are other ways officers can help troubled youth without exposing the department to civil liability. For example, Kimerer said he coaches youth sports, sits on the boards of youth organizations and researches the city's social-service providers.
"I know it's not my role ... to fulfill a parental responsibility," Kimerer said, "or certainly to engage in corporal punishment."
Sam Pailca, director of the police department's Office of Professional Accountability, which investigated Roberson, said right or wrong, officers' behaviors are going to be judged.
"It's a unique profession in many ways," she said. "With that comes a higher degree of scrutiny than other professions."
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
Seattle Times, 4 May 2004
What readers are saying
Compiled by seattletimes.com
We asked readers to share their thoughts about Seattle police officer Richard Roberson's actions and his 5-day suspension.
Here's a representative sample of the comments submitted:
"When no one else could help a very troubled young boy, Officer Roberson was there for him. Isn't that what we WANT of our police officers? Obviously a spanking isn't the first choice of action, but it sounds as though Roberson went above and beyond every call of duty to try and help the boy in every way possible. It sounds like he was making a positive and parent-supported difference in the boy's life, as no one else could. He deserves commendation, not reprimand. I pray this young boy gets the help he needs, I fear boys like him are falling through the cracks in every growing numbers."
-- Cathy Godwin,
"I must express my outrage regarding the story of Seattle Police Officer Richard Roberson and his so-called discipline of the eight-year old boy whom he spanked. As stated in the May 3rd article, 'According to his mother, the boy has emotional and mental problems, including extreme defiance to authority and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which have required counseling or medication since he was 3 years old.' What insanity could ever lead anyone to conclude that a child suffering such difficulties would benefit from being hit? Whether or not the mother gave permission is immaterial; Roberson should have known, as any reasonable person would, that hitting a child with emotional and mental problems is completely inappropriate. Furthermore, I feel that this is the worst sort of abuse of the badge. I wonder if either mother or cop considered the possible effects of spanking a child who already has issues with authority. Increased hatred and fear of authority would seem a likely consequence of being physically punished by a police officer. Shame on both Officer Roberson and the unnamed mother. It is neither the responsibility or the right of police officers to mete out punishments, nor should the mother have condoned it. Kudos to Chief Kerlikowske for suspending this officer for abusing a troubled child. Furious in Seattle."
-- Paul Moore,
"I think it is remarkable that this officer has taken this 'problem child' under his wing and tried to teach him wrong from right. Since he had the mother's permission to spank him -- and explained why he was doing it -- then he should not be reprimanded for it. I say he should be praised for what he has done, and too bad more police officers don't take this kind of personal interest in the public they are protecting."
-- Danita Swenson,
"I say BRAVO to him for taking it upon himself to care enough to become involved! It is difficult enough to raise kids as a single parent when they don't have additional challenges physically or mentally, but 100 times more difficult when they do. He is a positive force in this boy's life and should be awarded...not suspended!!!!"
-- Karen Rockwell,
"From excerpt of the law that the Seattle Times published it is quite obvious that Officer Roberson's actions were indeed lawful. He had obtained prior permission from the child's parent to spank the 8 year old and should not have been reprimanded in any way by the police department."
-- Kiara McCormick,
"Quite frankly I think that everyone along the way in this case has missed the point. It would be more effective to look into the behaviors of the boy's mother. She has had him labeled and medicated since he was 3? What she considers extreme disobedience may be no more than any other normal child's desire to learn, move and breathe freely in a safe, caring environment. This over-reactive, unable to cope with normal childhood behavior, type of parenting has been documented many times before. Always people assume that what the parent says is true. Wrong to assume. There is a wonderful example of just this type of thing in a documentary called 'A Boy's Life' where the boy was labeled as bad and medicated due to his guardian but after the home lifestyle being filmed over a period of two years it was proven that he was indeed 'normal' and the guardian had mental abnormalities. We always take it out on the kids. Sad society."
-- Jeri Fitzbuck,
"Sounds like the boy needs a lot more than a swat on the butt. The only fault I might find of the officer is that he was in uniform. I grew up in Renton where my father was a police officer and very familiar to getting a few swats. I believe that every child reacts to different forms of discipline and as a parent it is our responsibility to find the most effective form, you can't just spank or beat every child. I myself reacted to a spanking every once in a while when my older brother did not. As a parent of a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl I have never raised a hand to my children in any for, I find that a corner or a time out spot works great. It sounds like the mother needs some help and Mr. Roberson stepped up and attempted to help he should not be punished, I also think our society has become far to soft from the raising of our children to the managing of employees. We live in a great county and should not be so quick to punish the people that are trying to keep it that way. Officer Richard Roberson should be rewarded not punished!"
-- Todd Anthony,
"If the cop was off duty, not in uniform, given permission from the parent, and acting as a big brother (etc.), and it was not with the intent to harm the child, just to show a little discipline, then he should not have been suspended without pay for his actions. The problem with today's society, parents literally can not discipline their children the way they were disciplined growing up without CPS getting involved for child abuse. There is a difference between a spanking in conjunction with discipline vs. beating a child. The officer was not in the wrong granted permission from the mother considering the child has no male figure in his life (like a father)."
-- Jamie C.,
"I feel if the officer had the mother's permission to discipline/spank the child then so be it. The problem is whoever went back to his (Mr. Roberson) superiors needs to mind their own business, especially if the mother had no problem with it. Secondly that is the problem with these children today, they need some old fashion discipline."
-- Robin Jones,
"I feel that officer Roberson should be commended, not condemned or punished for his actions. What he does on his own personal time and out of uniform is none of Kerlikowski's business. The mother is in full support of him and has agreed to have him act as a role figure to her son with full authority to punish him while she is present. Our community needs more adults like officer Roberson that are willing to invest their time and energy into developing our fatherless and troubled youth into citizens that will lead productive lives."
-- Doug Webb,
"I think what this officer did was a good thing all the way around. It shows he not only protects the community, but cares enough to participate in it as well. He may of only been trying to help one child, but maybe saving one potential hooligan or future gang member at a time is what we need. As far the Chief's statements on the spankings, if more people would stop relying on psychobabble and go back to old fashioned parenting, handing out a spanking when needed, our kids might actually realize we care about them and their future, not just our jobs and our own problems for a change."
-- Barry Petersen,
Dallas Morning News, Texas, 30 May 2004
Dallas Morning News, Texas, 31 May 2004
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