A Florida elementary school principal did not commit a crime when she spanked a first-grade student with a wooden paddle in front of the child's mother last month, the state attorney’s office said on Friday.
Footage of the April 13 incident, which was recorded by the mother on her cellphone, was shared with news outlets, sparking criticism of Central Elementary School principal Melissa Carter's actions. However, a legal review from the Office of State Attorney Amira Fox concluded that no crime was committed by Carter after reexamining evidence and documents from other law enforcement officials who investigated the incident.
Witness statements and evidence show that a 6-year-old girl was "disciplined by staff, including Ms. Carter and another staff member, Cecilia Self, for intentionally damaging a piece of computer equipment" at the Clewiston, Florida, school, according to the review of the case.
Clewiston is 80 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale.
Fabiola Rivera, the girl's mother, received a phone call from Self to notify her of the student's behavior. Rivera told Self that her daughter had also been damaging things at home, but she was afraid to spank her because her daughter threatened to call the police or the state's Department of Children and Families, according to the review. The phone call was conducted in Spanish.
Rivera then asked the school to spank the child for her, according to Self's testimony. Self told the mother that she would have to go to the school, request such discipline, and be present during the spanking. According to Self and Carter, Rivera proceeded to do so, the review said.
"The mother did not say, 'yes, go ahead and paddle my child.' Nowhere in the video or in any conversation ... It's prohibited by the school district. Does she have the authority to waive the rules of the school district?" Brent Probinsky, Rivera's attorney, told WBBH, the NBC affiliate in Fort Myers, Florida.
The spanking was filmed by Rivera "without the knowledge of any other parties in the room," according to the review. The full video shows Carter explaining to the child what was about to happen and why, the review found. Carter and Self then appear to make efforts to "safely spank the child without injury," according to the findings. Carter spanks the child three consecutive times with a wooden paddle in the buttocks. Photos of the child's buttocks show that she suffered mild bruising, according to the state attorney’s office.
Both staff members then asked the child to apologize to her mother. According to the review, Carter and Self treated the student and her mother "with respect throughout the process."
The state attorney’s office also said that edited portions of the full video appear to have been cut and released to the media at different times, resulting in an incomplete and misleading account of the incident to the public.
Probinsky said the mother did not stop school staff members from further spanking her child because she was scared to speak up at the moment.
"She had a bad experience with this principal in the past," Probinsky told WBBH. "She doesn't know what her rights are. She doesn't know what her child's rights are."
The state attorney’s office said no grounds exist to charge Carter with misdemeanor battery or aggravated battery because Rivera "consented to the spanking in the manner it was performed."
"The family and I as their lawyer are very disappointed that the State Attorney, Amira Fox, did not criminally charge the school principal and her assistant," Probinsky said in a statement to WBBH. "Fox in our estimation failed to hold accountable those who violate their responsibility to educate and nurture school children under their care and instead, physically and emotionally abuse them."