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Tougher restraint of children penalty

Published (3/23/2012)
By Mike Cook
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Holding chains that were used to restrain a child, Steve Sandvik, a detective with the Mower County Sheriff’s Office, testifies before the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee March 15 in support of a bill that would change the demonstrable harm level in the unreasonable restraint of children. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)A troubling incident in Mower County could lead to harsher penalties for people who mistreat children.

“A 5-year-old child was bound (to his bed) by a chain daily from the time he came home from school to the time he went back to school,“ said Steve Sandvik, a detective with the county sheriff’s office. “That is a gross misdemeanor. That’s all we could charge. It was the most horrible thing. … We are not allowed to treat first-degree murderers that way, and yet, less than a year in jail.”

Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) sponsors HF2220 that would reduce the level of harm required for a felony offense by replacing “substantial bodily harm” with “demonstrable bodily harm” in the definition.

The bill was approved March 15 by the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee and sent to the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee.

“We didn’t have substantial bodily harm,” said Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen. “We had demonstrable bodily harm. We had bruising, we had some swelling, and, quite frankly, there was a rust stain on this child’s ankle because of the time that this chain was spent to that child.”

She said demonstrable bodily harm — any harm that can be observed by another person — is used elsewhere in statutes, including assaulting a peace officer.

“We don’t think that we’re asking for too much to ask that somebody that chains, cages or ties their child in a cruel manner for a prolonged period of time should get a gross misdemeanor,” Nelsen said. “In this case it was clearly felonious conduct that we simply couldn’t charge.”

A companion, SF1725, sponsored by Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

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