19 Aug 2013

Fort Pierce Child Abuse Arrest Reduced to Simple Battery

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Jack Martin (not his real name) was arrested in March, 2013, for child abuse. He promptly retained
Jeffrey H. Garland to represent him in the Martin County case.

Fort Pierce Child Abuse

The discovery materials revealed a tragically familiar scenario. As a young man, Martin married,
had two children and divorced. Martin agreed to leave primary custody of the children with their
mother. Unfortunately, the mother fell into a merry-go-round of drug use, jail and “disappearance”.
The children intermittently enjoyed visitation with their father, but were primarily being raised by
the maternal grandparents. The maternal grandparents were overwhelmed by the situation.

Ultimately, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) intervened for the second time, because
neither the mother nor her parents could properly care for the children. The two children – ages 10
and 9 – were placed with Martin. The 10-year-old girl immediately adapted to the stability of new
surroundings and thrived. Her 8-year-old brother, however, had developmental difficulties which
resulted primarily from the lack of proper care while in the custody of his mother and grandparents.

Subsequent investigation established that Martin was one of six children raised in a “strict”
household. Martin and his siblings were subject to corporal punishment if they committed serious
transgressions. Martin and all of his siblings turned out well.

Martin did not have the benefit of raising his children and to adjusting to their developmental
situations. Instead, the children were placed into his care without much preparation. DCF knew that
the boy had psychological issues and had been prescribed medication. DCF “dropped the ball” by
not providing specific education on how to deal with a boy having such issues.

Although the daughter was doing well in school and, as previously noted, adjusted well to living
with her father and stepmother, the son did not adjust so well. His behavior was sometimes erratic
and defiant. Martin had difficulty understanding his son. As he had been raised with spankings,
Martin used a “belt” when the son came home from school with “Fs”, and teachers were complaining
about his behavior. Martin at first tried talking with his son about these issues, then an escalating
series of actions ensued. Time-outs, restrictions and taking away games did not modify the son’s
behavior. Counseling through Martin’s church did not modify the son’s behavior. Martin reluctantly
resorted to the use of the belt just one time. The entire purpose of the corporal punishment was to
promote better behavior and encourage more attention to schoolwork.

Martin was arrested for child abuse, because he sought to encourage better, more responsible
behavior with the belt. DCF initiated a dependency proceeding at the same time.

After several months, DCF approached Attorney Garland about encouraging more contact between
Martin and his children. The criminal court had imposed conditions which prevented Martin from
having any contact with his son. With the recommendation of DCF, Attorney Garland obtained a
modification of the bond condition to allow contact between Martin and his son in accordance with
the requirements of the dependency court.

The dependency court allowed increasing levels of contact, all of which went very well. The
children both made clear to the DCF counselors that they loved their father and that they had no fear
of him. At this point, DCF advised the prosecuting attorney of this developing situation.

The prosecutor agreed to reduce the charge from felony child abuse to simple battery. Martin was
placed on one year of probation, with the condition that he abide by all the requirements imposed
in the dependency proceeding. Martin realized that his most important goal was the welfare of his
children. The case has been resolved to the satisfaction of all involved on August 14, 2013.

Comment: Most folks perceive DCF as the “enemy”. My experience has suggested the opposite;
that DCF is primarily looking out for the interests of the child or children. They key to resolving the
Martin case was cooperating with DCF. Martin’s corporal punishment issue was a “one time”
problem which was easily corrected through education. The mother’s drug dependency, incoherence
and lack of responsibility were ongoing problems for many years. DCF was of great assistance in
helping to resolve Martin’s criminal case. DCF realized that Martin was a far better “parent” than
either the mother or the maternal grandparents.