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Domestic CP - November 2003
The Day, New London, Connecticut, 3 November 2003
Minister To Go On Trial For Spanking Two Child Parishioners
He Says He Struck Them In Jesus' Name To Impose Discipline
By Diane Scarponi
New Haven- The Rev. Walter Oliver believes that God is on his side.
If not, Oliver could face up to 30 years in prison.
Oliver is charged with two counts each of assault and risk of injury to a minor for beating two child parishioners of his former church in New Haven. Jury selection in his trial is scheduled to begin this week.
He freely admits he beat the boys, who were 11 and 12 at the time. They were beatings in Jesus' name, he said, and carried out with love according to the adage "Spare the rod and spoil the child."
"I call it a "Holy Spanking' - that's God's mandate to keep law and order," Oliver said in an interview last week.
He said he was acting with the permission of their mother in his official capacity as the children's pastor.
He hit the boys several times on the bare buttocks with a black leather belt. The boys were not bloodied or seriously injured; prosecutors said the beatings left marks, an allegation Oliver denies.
Prosecutor Brian Sibley said religious freedom is "an outside issue" and not a legitimate defense for Oliver.
It also doesn't matter that Oliver was their minister, Sibley said. Oliver would face charges if he were the boys' father, he said.
"We're treating this like any other child abuse case," Sibley said.
Oliver, 66, is a native of New Haven and comes from a family of religious leaders. He said his parents were strict and pushed him and his two brothers to work hard. When the boys misbehaved at home or at school, they were spanked.
He went to public high school and a little college, then enlisted in the Army and worked as a military hospital clerk in Germany. Later, at about age 25, he was working as a clerk at the post office when he got "the call."
"It was a divine call. God Almighty puts an impression on your psyche and your spirit," he said.
Oliver launched himself into various ministries in the late 1960s and early 1970s, preaching salvation from drugs, truancy and lawlessness. His ministry took him to schools, prisons and street corners to spread his motto: "Christ is the answer."
Under a group he founded, Youth Crusaders Inc., he published pamphlets about the dangers of drug use. The covers of the pamphlets showed graphic photos Oliver said he took himself of people injecting drugs into their veins.
© The Day Publishing Co., 2003
New Haven Register, Connecticut, 8 November 2003
Brothers describe pain of spankings
By Michelle Tuccitto
NEW HAVEN - Two boys on Friday described being struck repeatedly with a belt on their bare skin, crying and asking their pastor to stop because of the pain.
The Rev. Walter Oliver of Beacon Falls is on trial in Superior Court on charges of third-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor for spanking the boys, who were ages 11 and 12 at the time, with his belt.
Anthony Bailey, who is now 14, said he'd get spankings for not doing his chores, like cleaning the kitchen.
"I had to pull my pants down and got a spanking on my bare bottom," Anthony Bailey said. "I'd be hit on the butt with a belt."
Under questioning by prosecutor Brian Sibley, Anthony Bailey said it hurt and made him cry.
"I resisted a few times and he'd push me over and continue spanking me," Anthony Bailey said. "He said it was supposed to hurt."
His brother, Marcus, now age 15, described receiving the same punishment.
"He'd tell me to take off my pants and my underwear and lean on a chair, with my knees on the floor," Marcus Bailey testified.
He told jurors it hurt, prompting him to cry and ask Oliver to stop.
"He'd continue," Marcus Bailey said. "If I tried to get up, he'd push me back down."
Both said the spankings left marks - like lines of swollen skin and bruising.
When questioned by defense attorney Norman Pattis, Marcus Bailey said Oliver would tell him he loved him and wanted to make sure he didn't go to hell or prison. Marcus Bailey had run into problems, and testified that he'd been suspended from school and even arrested.
The boys' mother, Pamela Paige, who has been granted immunity from prosecution, testified Friday that she also has struck her children with a belt in the past. While Anthony denied ever being hit by his mother, Marcus acknowledged it.
"Did you ever tell (the Department of Children and Families) about being hit with a belt by your mom?" Pattis asked Marcus Bailey.
"No," Marcus Bailey said, adding that it was OK because she is his mother.
Paige, of West Haven, testified for the state that she asked for Oliver's help after her son's arrest, as her husband had passed away. Oliver was her pastor at Bible Speaks Ministries, located in New Haven at the time.
"My understanding was that he'd sit down with the boys and describe for them what is right and wrong, being responsible and doing their homework," Paige said.
She understood that Oliver planned to use corporal punishment, but she stressed that she did not believe the children would be injured.
Paige started crying on the stand Friday when she described hearing Oliver scuffling with the children during the spankings on the floor above her. When questioned by Sibley, she said she didn't confront Oliver out of fear.
"I wish I hadn't given permission (for Oliver to use corporal punishment), because I felt as though it had gone too far," Paige said. "I left the church to protect my sons. I got tired of lying and saying they were being good."
When questioned by Pattis, who is trying to convince jurors the bruises may have had different causes, Paige said her son Anthony had fallen off his bicycle that summer.
Paige abruptly started yelling at Oliver in court, saying "You call yourself a pastor and a Christian."
Paige told jurors all she wants is the $1,400 Oliver owes her, and an apology for using her vehicle and wrecking the transmission.
Paige described having psychiatric difficulties at one point, and she claimed Oliver told her all she needed was "it," and she said she understood him to mean that she needed sex.
Pattis tried to get Judge Eddie Rodriguez to declare a mistrial based on Paige's allegations that Oliver owed her money, damaged her car and made inappropriate sexual comments. Rodriguez denied the request for a mistrial.
The state rested its case Friday. Pattis is expected to ask Rodriguez to dismiss the charges when the trial resumes Monday. If he is unsuccessful, then Oliver and other defense witnesses will testify next week.
© New Haven Register 2003
Middleton Press, Connecticut, 11 November 2003
Pastor is off the hook
By Michelle Tuccitto
NEW HAVEN --A Superior Court jury decided Monday that a Beacon Falls pastor didn't commit a crime when he spanked two young boys on their bare buttocks with a belt.
The six member panel deliberated for an hour and a half before acquitting the Rev. Walter Oliver, who faced two counts each of third-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor.
A relieved Oliver - who could have faced up to 22 years in prison if convicted - stood outside the courthouse afterward with about a dozen supporters, who hugged and cried.
Oliver, who did not testify, acknowledged using corporal punishment and cited the adage, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Oliver had told police he used the belt on the children, then ages 11 and 12, to save them from hell and incarceration, according to testimony.
"I'm grateful to God and my attorney, who did a tremendous job," Oliver said. "With my own children, I gave them the holy rod and they have never been arrested."
Oliver's supporters, many of whom were carrying Bibles, responded to his comments with "Praise Jesus."
Oliver denied ever using the buckle end of the belt on the children.
"I left no marks," Oliver said. "Each time I spanked, I told them, 'Pastor loves you - this is the holy rod.'"
The boys' mother, Pamela Paige of West Haven, had testified for the state that she asked for Oliver's help with discipline after one of her sons was arrested.
Oliver was her pastor at Bible Speaks Ministries, which was located in New Haven at the time.
Paige told jurors she understood that Oliver planned to use corporal punishment, but she stressed that she did not believe the children would be injured.
Oliver asserted that his actions were done out of love, with the permission of the boys' mother.
"I love those boys and treat them like my own sons," Oliver said.
"The system is trying to take over our rights as parents."
Attorney Norman Pattis told jurors in closing arguments that his client may be "anachronistic."
Pattis noted that Oliver had paperwork outlining the duties and behavior expected of the children, and the punishment which would result if they didn't comply.
"You don't create a paper trail if you are going to abuse a child," Pattis said.
"There is no law against spanking."
Pattis asked jurors if they find it offensive for the state to tell them what they can do in their homes to discipline their children.
"Spankings unfortunately hurt," Pattis said. "When you got spanked as a kid, did it occur to you to have Mom and Dad prosecuted?"
Prosecutor Brian Sibley held up the leather belt Oliver used on the children in front of the jury and said Oliver crossed a line, going beyond a spanking.
"When the defendant held this belt and hit their bare buttocks - did that rise to the level of an assault?" Sibley asked jurors.
"Remember the testimony of the two children, who both told you they were in pain. One couldn't even count the number of blows as he was forced to lean over a chair. Although Mr. Oliver would like you to believe it was done out of love, the children tried to get away, and he held them down.
Mr. Oliver told police he intended to cause pain."
After the verdict, Sibley said he was disappointed, particularly because Oliver confessed to striking the children with a belt.
L'Tanya Kimpson of New Haven, a member of Oliver's parish, was among those who came to court to support him.
"I'm just so overwhelmed," she said, after the verdict.
"God is in control. God is good.
"It's been going on for so long, and I'm happy it is over. (Oliver) is only trying to save souls."
Julie Harding, a member of Holy Nation Church, noted that Oliver had the boys' mother's permission to help with discipline.
"He did his best to help her," Harding said.
"We have to control our children."
Nadine Block, executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline, based in Columbus, Ohio, had been following the case and called the verdict "appalling" Monday.
"If we hit adults, we call it an assault," Block said. "Prisoners, people in mental institutions and the military are protected from corporal punishment. You can't hit your wife, your neighbor or your neighbor's dog. It's time to end the barbaric practice of hitting children."
Block rejected the notion that beating a child with a belt will steer them away from wrongdoing.
"Most people who are in prison have been abused," she said. "There are better alternatives for discipline - like making the child make restitution and undo any harm they did."
Jurors reached Monday declined to comment.
© The Middletown Press 2003
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New Haven Register, Connecticut, 12 November 2003
Spanking minister says he'd do it again
By Natalie Missakian
NEW HAVEN - The Rev. Walter Oliver, on the heels of his acquittal on assault charges, said Tuesday he would not hesitate to spank a child again if a parent or parishioner sought his help.
"If the scenario should happen again, by all means," said Oliver, one day after a jury found him not guilty in the so-called "holy spankings" of two boys.
"What should I do, stand by and let them go to jail? Let them shoot somebody?" he asked. "I find a good spanking is a deterrent. With persistence and love, it does work."
Oliver, pastor of the Bible Speaks Ministries, formerly based in New Haven, told police he used a belt on the bare buttocks of a parishioner's children, then 11 and 12, to save them from hell and incarceration. He said he had their mother's permission.
The unusual case has put a spotlight on one of the most debated topics in child rearing: To spank or not to spank, and when does a parent cross the line between discipline and abuse?
While Oliver's supporters are celebrating the verdict as a victory for parents' rights, opponents of corporal punishment worry the decision could bolster the case for a form of punishment they view as ineffective and possibly dangerous.
"We are a violent country and we're falling behind in a lot of ways and one of them is in our failure to protect children,'' said Nadine Block, executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline, an Ohio-based organization that opposes spanking. "If you had hit your wife or your neighbor or your neighbor's dog with a belt, you probably have a worse chance of getting off."
She said 11 countries have outlawed spanking as a form of discipline, even by a parent.
"They have lower rates of child abuse, their children are respectful and growing up well," Block said.
But Brian Green, a one-time Republican candidate for city clerk in the 1990s and a supporter of Oliver and his ministry, said there has been a chilling effect against physical discipline of children, especially in the Northeast, to the detriment of the community.
"You would have never seen a case like this brought to trial in a Southern state. The culture is different. The general feeling of the community is different,'' he said.
As a computer coordinator in a local school district, Green said he has seen teachers and administrators here hamstrung in their efforts to discipline children for fear of running afoul of the law.
"We've gotten to the point in society where any sort of correction is impossible."
However, 27 states and Washington, D.C., have banned corporal punishment in schools, the Center for Effective Discipline says. The majority of those that permit paddling are in the South and West.
Child psychologists and pediatricians make a strong case against spanking children, citing studies linking corporal punishment to everything from adult depression and aggression to lower IQ.
Dr. Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Child Study Center, said at the very least, studies show spanking fails to stop undesirable behavior in the end, even if it serves as an immediate deterrent.
"What it does is make children have a little bit more difficult relationship with their parent," he said. He said parents are more successful if they "praise and reward and encourage the behaviors you want in your child. If you want to make a child aggressive, one of the best things you can do is hit them a lot."
Proponents of spanking often cite Scriptures such as Proverbs 23:14, "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell," or Proverbs 29:15: "The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother shame."
While many Evangelical ministers have rallied behind Oliver, other theologians say he has taken Scripture literally and out of context.
"I don't think God wants his children, his people, to be going around physically (hurting) each other. It's just totally inconsistent with the way most Christians would view God and Jesus," said Vance Taylor, a student at the Yale Divinity School.
"In the case of 'spare the rod,' well, maybe the rod is talking assertively to a child. Maybe the rod is some other way of disciplining other than through forceful means," he added.
"Those individuals who believe in the New Age, no spanking at all, they have missed the mark," said the pastor.
© New Haven Register 2003
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