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[January 29, 2011]
'Dr. Phil' appearance nets abuse charges
Jan 29, 2011 (Anchorage Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Child abuse charges filed against the wife of an Anchorage police officer arose from the woman's appearance on the "Dr. Phil" show, during which the audience saw a video of her disciplining her child with hot sauce and a cold shower, according to court documents filed this month.
The city's allegation against Jessica Beagley, 36, soon grabbed the attention of Russian news outlets.
Her son, the 7-year-old alleged victim, was adopted with his twin brother from a Russian orphanage when they were 5, according to the local adoption agency that placed the brothers with the Beagleys. Adoptions from Russia to the U.S. have been on hold for more than a year because Russian authorities want an agreement for better oversight of the adopted kids, who typically keep Russian citizenship.
Beagley's attorney said Wednesday he plans to enter a not guilty plea at Beagley's arraignment hearing Friday.
"She has not done anything that would warrant a criminal charge for child abuse," said William Ingaldson, her attorney. "If this hadn't showed up on 'Dr. Phil,' there wouldn't be anybody saying anything about it." Multiple sources reported to Anchorage police that they'd seen Beagley on the nationally televised show, police said. An Anchorage detective watched video showing Beagley yelling at the boy, putting Tapatio hot sauce in the boy's mouth, and forcing him, crying, into a cold shower, according to documents filed in court.
WHAT THE VIDEO SHOWS In the video, Beagley is punishing the boy for "pulling three cards," a reference to three reports from his school of bad behavior.
"We've tried timeouts with (him)," Beagley says in a YouTube video from the "Dr. Phil" appearance. "That is a big joke." In the video, Beagley goes on to explain that those previous methods of discipline -- timeouts, spankings, forced exercise, soap in the mouth -- didn't stop the boy from acting out and lying, so she turned to hot sauce.
"If we've been having a lot of problems, it'll stay in the bathroom where it's handy when we need it," Beagley tells the camera.
When she's at her wits' end, the boy gets a cold shower, Beagley says.
A different video on YouTube showing the hot sauce and cold shower punishment had more than 980,000 views. The videos are watermarked with a "Dr. Phil" logo and appear to be teasers for the show.
"The video has sound and anyone watching the video can hear (the child) screaming in pain," the charging document states.
THE CHARGES Detective Leonard Torres then interviewed Beagley, her husband, officer Gary Beagley, and their six children.
There are no allegations of abuse related to the other children. There is also no indication that any of the children have been removed from the household by state social workers.
Municipal prosecutor Cynthia Franklin's interpretation of evidence in the detective's report is that Beagley's methods of discipline were unreasonable and therefore she broke Anchorage child abuse laws.
Municipal law on child abuse -- punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $10,000 fine -- lists several factors in determining what is reasonable parental discipline. One example of unreasonable discipline included in the code is the scalding, branding or burning of a child.
Though the code does not mention hot sauce specifically, the section on burning applies to hot sauce, according to the municipal prosecutor's office.
"They just felt that this went beyond acceptable disciplinary measures," police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said. "Ultimately, a jury will have to decide if that's the case." RUSSIANS ASK QUESTIONS Franklin, the prosecutor, said four Russian reporters interviewed her about the case recently and a Russian diplomat met with her to ask about the seriousness of the charges.
Russia's ombudsman for child rights indicated in Russian media reports that he was interested in the case. Olga Byrnes, director of Russian adoptions for the Alaska International Adoption Agency in Anchorage, explained why.
News of beaten, sexually abused or murdered Russian adoptees in the U.S. angered Russia's adoption authorities. That led to separate regions in Russia banning adoptions to the U.S., and the national government stepped in, requesting an agreement with the United States that they get better oversight of the adoptions, Byrnes said.
"They want to participate in the investigations, because the children are still Russian citizens," Byrnes said.
NOT AS BAD AS IT LOOKS? At first, Byrnes was shocked and angry when someone showed her the video of Beagley punishing the boy. But then she heard more about the Beagleys interactions with producers of the "Dr. Phil" show.
Byrnes said she believed the Beagleys contacted the show to get additional help with the boy's behavioral problems. She has reason to believe the producers told the Beagleys the video they send had to be controversial to get them on the show, Byrnes said. Byrnes also wonders if creative editing by the show might have made the punishment look worse, she said.
"It's not all white and black," she said. "There are shades in between." Byrnes said the Office of Children's Services did not remove any children from the Beagley household, something Parker, the police spokesman, said he also thinks is true.
"If there's any danger to the child, they're supposed to take the child," Byrnes said. "They didn't take the child." Parker was unaware of any investigation of Gary Beagley. There may also be work-related issues for officer Beagley if an investigation by the Anchorage Police Department finds he broke their rules, Parker said.
Jessica Beagley did not break municipal law, according to Ingaldson, her attorney. The Beagley children haven't had physical injuries or medical care for injuries, he said.
"Some people think spanking your child is wrong, and she doesn't even do that," he said.
------ Find Casey Grove online at adn.com/contact/casey.grove or call him at 257-4589.
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