Adult Bit Child, But Appeals Court Reverses Child Abuse Finding

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - A state appeals court has reversed the child abuse ruling of a man who admitted to biting his fiance's son to punish him.

The trial record showed that when a 9-year-old boy bit his 4-month-old half brother last June, he was given a choice of punishment: be paddled or be bitten himself.

The boy, who had a history of biting, chose being bitten.

Chestin Wengerd testified that groundings, time-outs, a spanking and chores had failed to end her older son's biting.

So she and her fiance, Norman Baldwin, the infant's father, offered the boy a choice of punishment. The boy chose a bite over a paddling, and Baldwin bit the 9-year-old on the face, leaving upper and lower marks on the boy's cheek.

At trial, Wayne County Juvenile Judge K. William Bailey Jr. sided with the Wayne County Children Services Board, finding that "a bite to the face is not a reasonable act of corporal punishment." He allowed the boy to remain with his mother but placed him under supervised protection.

In a 2-1 ruling on Wednesday, the 9th Ohio District Court of Appeals determined that the punishment may have been inappropriate but was not child abuse.

In reversing the juvenile court's decision, appellate judges Lynn Slaby and Beth Whitmore ruled that "although this act may be inappropriate and unwarranted, it did not rise to the level of being an offense of child abuse."

Judge Donna Carr dissented. She wrote that the punishment "transcends the boundaries of acceptable corporal punishment."

"We're disappointed with the ruling, to say the least. If you physically discipline a child and leave a mark, it's abuse," said Paula Sawyers, the county's Children Services Board lawyer.

Wengerd's lawyer, V. Lee Winchell, said he argued at trial that the boy chose the punishment and that the bite was delivered with thoughtful compassion to show the boy how painful biting can be.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)