Charles Enloe, 42, of Plymouth was arrested after disciplining his son with a belt. (Herald photo by Renee Dekona)
A Plymouth father facing a felony charge for using a belt to spank his 12-year-old son over forgotten homework says he's the victim of overzealous authorities with no business telling him how to discipline his child.
``My record is spotless and all of a sudden I have a felony charge?'' an exasperated Charles Enloe said following his arrest by Plymouth police. ``. . . How is a parent supposed to raise a child these days? You can't spank them, you can't yell at them in stores. I feel I was wrongly charged.''
Enloe, a 42-year-old divorced father, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon Thursday after his son and ex-wife reported the spanking to police. Authorities said Enloe's son, who was back in his father's care last night, did not suffer any injuries as a result of the incident.
The case, which also is being investigated by the state Department of Social Services, resurrects the controversial issue of when corporal punishment by parents crosses the line into abuse and criminal activity.
In a high-profile case in 1999, the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled parents have the right to spank their children if the discipline does not cause ``substantial risk'' of injury.
In that case, a Woburn minister was cleared of an abuse charge for using a belt to spank his 9-year-old son, which he said was in accordance with the Bible.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services said the Plymouth case has prompted a ``nonemergency'' investigation because the boy did not appear to be in imminent danger.
Enloe, who insists he has no personal animosity toward police, said he is mostly upset that spanking his son could constitute a felony. He said he lightly tapped his son on the rear end three times after the boy forgot to bring his homework home from school.
Enloe said his son became scared after the spanking and called his mother, Diana Dematteo, who contacted police and filed for a temporary restraining order. The next day, police arrested Enloe on the felony assault charge and took him to lockup, where he spent two hours before being charged in court. He pleaded innocent and was released on a promise to return June 1.
Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz said yesterday prosecutors will monitor the case to decide how to proceed if it reaches a jury trial. Meantime, debate will continue over when public authorities should become involved in private discipline.
``We have too much tolerance for violence in this country,'' said Dr. Kathleen Malley-Morrison, a Boston University professor who specializes in family violence. ``Research shows that if we raise children without spanking them, they look better and they're psychologically healthier.''
Enloe said the problem is not too much tolerance for violence, but a lack of tolerance for parents' beliefs on discipline. ``I did it out of love,'' he said of the spanking. ``. . . That's all a parent wants, is for their child to grow up right.''
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