The rain had finally let up and the weather that late-June day was finally getting seasonable in Casper when local resident Anna Jennings heard some shocking news from her son.
She'd put in a long day of work at the Juvenile Detention Center and was going to watch her 10-year-old son Jason's ball game. When she saw her son, he told her, "Mom, some lady spanked me today."
Jennings was irate, but recognized that she'd only heard one side of the story.
Casper Police Officer John Hatcher responded to Jennings' call to the station at 8:45 p.m. June 22.
In his report, the officer wrote that Jennings' son, Jason, had come home in tears saying that a woman had spanked him hard and told him to go home after one of his water balloons nearly hit her. The woman was identified as SueAnn Tavener, the mother-in-law of one of Jennings' neighbors.
Jennings had checked for marks on Jason's bottom and told police that her son had none visible from the alleged swat by Tavener, Hatcher's report states.
But after talking with Tavener, the officer discovered a different story.
Tavener said that she had grocery bags in her arms and was walking up a cluttered path to her daughter-in-law's house in the 900 block of South Jackson when Jason stepped in front of her. Concerned that she could trip over him, she pushed him out of her way with her right hand. She said that the boy was not crying when he left, according to Hatcher's report.
Tavener's daughter-in-law, Sherry Gray, said she witnessed the incident. She told Hatcher that Tavener had simply "patted" Jason on the bottom. She also said the child was not crying when he left, according to Hatcher's report.
Police decided not to pursue charges against Tavener, a well-respected counselor at the Prairie Institute in Casper.
Despite numerous phone calls, and a letter sent to her office, Tavener declined to respond to the Casper Star-Tribune's requests for an interview. In two brief discussions in the last two weeks, Tavener said only that Jennings' accusations were lies.
Police did not pursue charges against Tavener.
Deputy Police Chief Jack Watters, who reviewed Hatcher's report, said he did not believe Tavener intended to do "bodily harm" to Jason.
"It's a misdemeanor that officers can't arrest unless they witness it or see evidence, and there was no evidence," said Watters.
"I would stand behind the officer in not pressing charges," he said.
Jennings was distraught at the news.
"I can't believe a stranger can hit your kid and nothing will happen," she said. "It's wrong that anyone can get away with hitting. It teaches my son that it's OK to hit 'cause nothing will be done about it -- it's just sending the wrong message."
City Attorney Gary Way would not discuss the case with either the Star-Tribune or Jennings.
"The city attorney just basically hung up on me," said Jennings. She said she feels no one cares about what happened to her son.
District Attorney Mike Blonigen, whose office handles misdemeanor and felony cases in Natrona County Circuit Court and 7th District Court, was unfamiliar with the case.
But in general, he said, the question of what is reasonable discipline is left to a jury to decide.
Punishment of a child, he said, "can't leave bruising and must be within reasonable parameters of the caregiver."
Blonigen also said that charges brought against someone for spanking another's child would be highly circumstantial and depend on many factors.
Potential charges range from misdemeanor assault and child endangerment to child abuse, he said.
Jennings isn't satisfied with such explanations. A cook at the Juvenile Detention Center, she said she believes adults should be held to the same standard of behavior as the kids she deals with every day.
"If (Jason) was an adult, things would be completely different," she said. "I have kids in (the Juvenile Detention Center) who have even been put in jail for less."
She wants to know how far people can go when disciplining and spanking children -- their own, and others'.
Kathy Herter of Mercer House is in charge of the Baby Steps parenting program.
"It's a place for parents who are at their wit's end in dealing with child care," Herter said. "Parents are able to give input and share what has worked for them."
When it comes to spanking and its effects, she said simply, "Violence begets violence."
"There are alternatives to spanking, like time-outs," she said.
"But sometimes it can be the only thing that gets a kid's attention -- we're talking (about spanking over a) padded diaper, though."
Herter said parents must "look developmentally at the ages of the kids -- what they're able to comprehend -- if the children understand what is meant by the words a parent uses."
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