Tacoma, WA – Two Tacoma police officers have been fired and are facing potential criminal charges, after they told a woman that that state law permitted her to physically discipline her violent grandson.
After explaining the law to the 54-year old grandmother, the officers witnessed her striking the 9-year-old child with a belt, The News Tribune reported.
The Tacoma Police Department fired both officers on Oct. 24, and a decision as to whether or not they will face criminal charges is expected to be made in January of 2019, The News Tribune reported.
The incident occurred on June 5, 2017, after the woman left her 9-year-old grandson at her residence with two Catholic Community Services social workers while she went to fill a prescription.
The child has been diagnosed with developmental disabilities, and had also been involuntarily committed to the hospital just two months prior.
During the 20 minutes that the woman was away from her home, the boy flew into a rage, she told The News Tribune.
“He smashed the windows and he smashed everything he could reach, and he was bleeding and glass was everywhere, windows were broken, coffee pots were broken all the dishes were smashed and he had knives in his hands, butcher knives and he was bleeding,” she recalled.
“He said, ‘I’m scared and I don’t want to hurt you,’ and he was bleeding,” the woman explained. “He gave me the knives.”
The boy had threatened to kill her many times in the past, the woman said.
During the boy’s rampage, one of the Catholic Community Services workers called 911, and Tacoma Police Officers Damion Birge and Jesse Jahner responded to the residence.
“One of them was really a big man,” the woman told The News Tribune. “He and his little buddy reminded me of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.”
According to the officers, the child “sat on the couch and smiled” amid the shattered remnants of windows and dishes, while his grandmother told them about what had occurred.
In addition to the boys’ repeated threats to kill her, the woman said she also feared that he was capable of hurting her because she was unable to move well due to a recent surgery.
She asked the officers to take the child into custody to be placed at the juvenile detention center, but they told her that was not an option due to the boy’s mental capacity and young age.
The officers asked her if she ever physically disciplined the boy.
She told them that she had held his wrists to restrain him in the past, but that the social workers told her she could not use physical discipline.
According to their report, the officers explained the state law regarding use of force on children, which is permitted as long as it is “reasonable and moderate and is authorized in advance by the child’s parent or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child,” The News Tribune reported.
The punishment must also not leave more than minor temporary marks.
They explained to the grandmother that she can legally “use small items as an extension of her hand, due to her physical limitations and size. [One officer] advised [the woman] to discipline [the boy] with a belt,” the report read, according to The News Tribune.
“[The woman] asked us to physically discipline [the boy], and we told her, ‘No.’ [We] explained that it was her child and she had the right to discipline him for his actions,” the officers’ report read.
The woman retrieved her grandson’s belt and handed it to one of the officers, who then slapped it against the table, she said.
“They proceeded to tell me that I had to use my belt and beat my boy,” the woman alleged. “They told me I had to, and they weren’t going to call an ambulance or anything.”
She claimed that she didn’t want to it, and that she pleaded with the social worker for help.
“The police officer said, ‘Don’t look at him. He’s nothing,’” the grandmother told The News Tribune. “’We’re the ones you need to listen to.’”
“I said, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it,’” the woman claimed. “They told me if I didn’t do this, they were gonna call CPS, take the boy from me, and I’d have to pay child support and never see him again.”
She said that one of the officers told her that he and his partner tell parents to physically discipline their children all the time.
“The little guy – the Barney Rubble of the two – he said, ‘This is what we do. This is what we do all the time,’” the woman claimed. “’You have to do this.’”
“And I did it,” she said. “I hit him with the belt.”
According to the police report, the boy cursed at his grandmother, hurled an object at her head, kicked at her, cried, and threatened to kill her as she hit him with the belt several times in their presence.
“Of course, my boy fought with me, because why wouldn’t he? I will never forgive myself,” the grandmother told The News Tribune. “They told me to wait until he was sleeping and beat him in his sleep. They told me to hit him for every window that was broken. It was absolutely the worst day of my life.”
She blamed the officers for what occurred, and said she no longer trusts law enforcement.
“I will never call the police again,” she said. “They tried to convince me that this wasn’t violence. I said, ‘That wasn’t violence? Then what was it?’ They said, ‘It’s just discipline.’ These guys were really prehistoric.”
However, the woman continued to plead with the officers for help.
“[The woman] pleaded that she fears he would kill her today or tonight,” the officers said in the report. “Due to her true fear of [the boy] and his clear dominance of the residence, [we] advised her we would involuntarily commit [him].”
The officers then transported the child to the children’s hospital, where he told staff that his grandmother had whipped him.
“They told me they would bring me up on child abuse charges,” the grandmother recalled.
She then told the hospital staff that the officers “made” her “beat” the boy, according to the paper.
“They made me do it,” she told The News Tribune. “They said, ‘You need to beat this boy.’”
The officers were suspended shortly after the incident, and were later fired at the conclusion of an internal investigation by the department, The News Tribune reported.
The Washington State Patrol conducted the criminal investigation, and turned its findings over to Thurston County prosecutors in September of 2017.
“If justice can be served, we’ll do it,” the boy’s grandmother told The News Tribune on Dec. 20. “We need closure.”