Troubleshooter: Grandmother seeks justice after alleged assault at school

FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. (WTVD) -- When you think of punishment in school, lunch detention, or suspension usually comes to mind, but one local grandmother said her grandson's punishment was against the law.

The private school is affiliated with a charity we investigated in February concerning donations and if they were getting to those in need.

The state is still investigating the charity, but after the story aired a new tip came in.

The student's grandmother shared pictures with us of her 10-year-old's bruised bottom from September. That's when his grandmother and guardian, Donna Thorne, said she noticed something unusual as he was getting out of the shower.

"I saw a little black spot on his side and I said, 'Brandon, you didn't wash good, turn around and let me wash that,' and when he turned around I saw bruises from the back down to the buttocks," Thorne said.

She demanded to know what happened.

"He said, 'Mr. Paul beat me with a belt,'" Thorne said.

Mr. Paul, is Paul Latham, who Thorne said teaches character building and music appreciation at Johnathan's House Christian School in Fuquay-Varina.

"Every one of these kids in the building I watch over them. From the smallest one to the biggest one to make sure they're safe," Latham said.

That's Latham defending the school back in February when I questioned his wife, school founder, Melanie Stewart, about the charity they run out of it.

Thorne said she enrolled Brandon there, because Stewart told her it would be perfect for his special needs.

"She almost guaranteed me 100 percent that within six weeks I would see a 180 degree turnaround; that he would love school, he would love reading, he would love going there," Thorne said.

But after just two weeks at Johnathan's House in Fuquay-Varina, Thorne said Brandon came home with these bruises. Thorne took him to the emergency room, where it was classified as an alleged assault and the family was referred to police.

"We went straight to the Harnett County Sheriff's Department and made a report and followed it out with them," she said.
She also pulled Brandon out of school, and says she confronted Stewart.

"She said that there was just a little incident and that Mr. Paul had taken care of it and she said that she told me she would not be calling every time something happened and that they could deal with it," Thorne said.

She was not happy with that explanation or the pace of the police investigation.

"No one came to investigate and that was my problem. We had a child. We had hospital statements. We had pictures. It was turned over by law like I had to do and it just got swept under the cover. I mean if they had thought I had done it, or my husband had done it, someone should have investigated and found out it was us. And if it wasn't us, they needed to find out who it was," Thorne said.

What Thorne didn't know, is that another parent had also been demanding answers about what happened to Brandon.

"My son said it was close enough that he said the whole high school could hear this child screaming and crying and they could hear the whip of that belt on that child. My son was devastated. Still is devastated to this day," Tracy Temple said.

Temple said she reported what her son told her to social services but didn't have Brandon's name because he was so new to the school.

"They told me with no last name, no age of the child, and not knowing who the child was that I didn't have anything to report," she said.
Frustrated, Temple pulled her son out of Jonathan's House, and then, after our investigation into Stewart and Latham's Charity, Temple and Thorn finally connected and went back to the sheriff together to demand action.

"These are children and you as a parent don't whip them like that so why in God's name would you let somebody else beat a child that bad. He was not whipped. He was beat," Thorne said.

Months after the alleged beating, Paul Latham is now charged with assault on a child under 12. His attorney said he's innocent and will resolve it in court.

Thorne said it'll never be resolved with Brandon.

"It's hard when my grandson wakes up in the middle of the night saying 'Nana, nana, I just need you.' He says 'It ain't nothing nana. I just need you.' My grandson still has dreams about this and it still bothers him," Thorne said.

Paul Latham is due in court in May. His wife, Melanie Stewart, didn't respond to my questions but according to the Johnathan's House student handbook we were provided it clearly states that it's school policy to provide alternatives to spanking and that parents will be notified in advance of corporal punishment and asked to witness.

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