Court Case Over Son's Spanking Still Stings Dad

By Kelly Lecker

Jason Klein won't deny he was furious when he learned in November that his 13-year-old son had taken liquor from their Newark home to share with his buddies.

He talked to his ex-wife – the boy's mother – and to his current wife, then came up with a discipline plan. He was going to spank his son.

When his wife took the other kids to church, Klein used part of a wooden cutting board to slap his son's buttocks four or five times.

"I'll be the first to admit there were some red marks," Klien said.

He considered the matter over.

But the next day, his son mooned a friend after wrestling practice and the coach saw what he described as black bruises.

By law, the coach was required to contact authorities. Deputy sheriffs and workers from the Licking County Job and Family Services agency visited the Klein home.

"There was no counseling. They didn't take my son out of the home," he said.

Two months later, however, authorities charged Klein with domestic violence.

A Licking County Municipal Court jury acquitted him last week, but Klein said he's still angry that he was prosecuted for something that he is allowed by state law to do: be a parent to his child.

"We should be running our own children and our own families," he said.

"That's a problem. If you get involved with your child, then you get in trouble with the court."

The issue is, when does the right to parent end and abuse begin?

On Monday, Cincinnati police arrested a city councilman there and charged him with domestic violence, accusing him of beating his son. The councilman pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge but is prohibited from having contact with his son.

In that case, hospital doctors contacted authorities after treating the 14-year-old boy Friday. They reported welts and belt marks on his body.

In the Klein case, witnesses said the boy appeared to be in pain when he sat on the wrestling mat. A 2-inch-by-4-inch bruise looked as if it was "splitting open," according to reports.

Authorities noticed that Klein is 6 feet 3 inches tall and 310 pounds.

But the teen – described by his father as a 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds – said he was only spanked for a major offense. In court, the boy said he understood that what he did was wrong and that he deserved the punishment.

Jurors said they spent about 30 minutes coming up with a not-guilty verdict.

"I didn't see any problem." juror Rudy Cannon said. "I believe in a good butt-warming. I had some when I was a kid, and I'm a better man for it."

Paul Treece, another juror, said he thought the spanking looked severe. But he said Klein, who has six children, has dealt with many problems and is doing the best he can. He said jurors thought a domestic-violence conviction would not help and was not warranted.

"The conviction would have destroyed this family," he said. "And the offense this kid committed could have been very serious."

Jurors said a key factor in the acquittal was the fact that Klein discussed and considered the punishment before meting it out.

"This wasn't in anger or rage," Treece said.

Assistant Law Director Tricia Klockner, who prosecuted the case, would not comment. Neither would Job and Family Services Director John Fisher, who also wouldn't discuss the distinction between discipline and abuse.

"It's a definition that can be somewhat different with each situation. It's a case-by-case scenario," he said.

Nadine Block, of the Center for Effective Discipline in Columbus, said corporal punishment – especially with a paddle – is wrong. She said all states allow reasonable corporal punishment.

"What is reasonable? That's a good question," she said.

Corporal punishment has lasting effects and does not work, she said, adding that public opinion in the United States is moving against it.

"It's easy to step over a line and injure a child," she said. "We're making a transition to a society where children are given more rights."

Klein said the courts should not get involved when there is no abuse.

"They said I should have called law enforcement and involve the court system. I think that's absolutely the wrong thing to do," he said.

Cannon, the juror, agreed.

"The government needs to keep its nose out of this," he said.