It was not disputed harsh corporal punishment was administered on a young child by Brandon Luke Baron. What was at the core of the argument before the court was Baron’s judicial fate.
Baron, age 27 and represented by Assistant Public Defender Laura Dykes, was in court Wednesday to learn whether he would be granted judicial diversion and the manner in which he would serve a two-year sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Philip Hatch represented the state and called a state probation officer as his only witness. Dykes called the defendant as her only witness. The decision laid in the hands of Judge Wesley Bray.
Baron pleaded guilty on Sept. 11 to one count of child abuse — a Class D felony — and agreed to the two-year sentence while applying for judicial diversion. If granted and Baron had met all requirements of supervised probation, he could then petition the court to have the charge removed from his record.
If not granted, it would be up to Bray to determine how much of the two-year sentence would be served.
On Aug. 31, 2016, Lake Tansi Security (now called Police and Security) responded to a Cherokee Trail E. address on a report of a child being struck with a belt. Cumberland County sheriff’s deputies and an investigator also responded.
Baron reportedly told the officers that he became angry over several discipline issues against other children and that when the child — believed to be 8 years old — gave an expletive retort to his mother, Baron “just lost it.”
Baron told investigators he took off his belt and started “whooping” the child, leaving several red marks and abrasions.
“My father used a belt on me, and I didn’t know better,” Baron was quoted as stating.
The Department of Childrens’ Services was contacted to investigate.
Tennessee Department of Corrections Board of Probation and Parole Officer Christopher Goddard testified that he prepared a pre-sentence report that included a Strong-R assessment. The controversial Strong-R assessment is a complex computer formula that creates a risk assessment of a defendant and, among other things, the chances of the defendant being arrested again.
In the case of Baron, Goddard testified that the Strong-R assessment found in nearly all categories Baron was a “low risk” to reoffend.
Since that time, Baron was arrested for driving on a suspended license and pleaded guilty to no driver’s license, the only conviction on his record. He also tested positive for use of marijuana, which Baron said came from extensive use of CBD oil taken for work-related back pain.
Under cross examination, Goddard said in preparation of the pre-sentence report, he found Baron had maintained steady employment, was married and supported three children (with one on the way) and his wife.
The only detriment on his assessment was some depression caused by the pending charge against him, and his use of marijuana since age 16 that he claimed in court he quit over a year ago.
Baron testified that at the time of the incident, he “did not know it was wrong” to administer corporal punishment to the point of serious markings on the child’s body.
Sometimes emotional, Baron recounted how he “learned a lesson,” completing parenting classes and anger management classes required by DCS.
During Dykes’ questioning of the incident, Baron testified that after being checked out in the emergency room at Cumberland Medical Center, the child was sent home with him and his wife.
Under questioning from Hatch, Baron said again, “I whooped him.” He admitted that he now knows this was wrong and agreed it was an unacceptable approach to discipline.
In closing, Hatch argued to the court that Baron should be denied judicial diversion and should serve a split sentence of 60 days in jail, followed by the balance of two years on supervised probation.
Dykes put up a vigorous defense and countered that in the absence of a felony record and with the fact that the only mark on his record being a no driver’s license conviction, Baron should be granted judicial diversion and the opportunity it gives to have a felony conviction off his record.
She added that the case involved a series of “unusual circumstances” and there was no proof that Baron had intent to violate the law. She added that most of those in the room had endured corporal punishment during their formative years, including herself.
In issuing his ruling, Bray noted the existence of a positive marijuana test and new conviction of a misdemeanor driving charge.
He could not stop picking up the photos showing the marks on the child’s upper back. Three times, he looked back at the pictures, and said he believed the injuries to be serious and to have been inflicted repeatedly.
“I don’t see how this is excusable,” Bray said. He denied judicial diversion. “I have no doubt this classifies as child abuse … you gave that child a beating.”
The judge added, “I think on that day the child would have wanted mercy like you ask today.”
He then ordered the two-year sentence to be served and that he go immediately into custody.
Dykes then argued that to enhance punishment after state prosecutors had enhanced the charge was “double dipping.”
“You can’t do that,” she argued. The assistant public defender then announced that she would appeal the sentence.