Not guilty: Judge finds corporal punishment at Fuquay-Varina private school didn't go too far

FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. (WTVD) -- The school called it discipline; the boy's family told us they thought it was criminal. Thursday, it played out in court.

Judge Robert Bryant ruled that corporal punishment at a Fuquay-Varina private Christian school last year did not go too far and found the school employee who hit the student several times with a yardstick not guilty.


Paul Latham, an assistant principal at Johnathan's House Christian School, walked out of the Harnett County Courthouse holding hands with his wife after the judge found him not guilty of assault on a child under 12.

Paul Latham leaves the courthouse.

The incident stems from last September. At the time, Donna Thorne's 10-year-old grandson went to Johnathan's House.

Latham admitted in court to disciplining the 10-year-old boy by hitting him with a yardstick several times after the boy misbehaved in the classroom.

As ABC11 reported earlier this year, Thorne showed us pictures that she said were of her grandson's bruised bottom after the discipline.

Bruises that Donna Thorne said her 10-year-old grandson came home with.

She said the school never alerted her about corporal punishment being used on her grandson, and she didn't find out he was hit until she saw the bruises. Thorne's grandson was seen at the hospital, where records state it was classified as an alleged assault. Months after the incident, Latham was charged with assault on a child under 12.

Thursday, Judge Bryant - referencing case law going back more than 100 years - said the punishment was not an assault because the evidence showed it was not done with malice and because it did not cause permanent or severe injury. The judge did say that personally he is not a proponent of corporal punishment, and that the discipline on the 10-year-old may have been made too hastily and other less severe punishment could have been used. But following state law, he ruled Latham is not guilty of assault.


While Latham had no comment after the not-guilty verdict, his attorney Jason Wunsch said, "He had no intent to cause harm to the child. He was trying to correct the behavior that was described in the courtroom."

As for Thorne, after the verdict she said, "I'm very disappointed. We are talking about a child that was beat. Just because it won't leave open skin or sores, the bruises don't mean anything. It is a sad day in history today when a man can get by with that. If I as a parent or you as a parent even leaves a red mark on your child, you would be up under the jail cell."

Experts say parents should learn about the corporal punishment policy at a child's school. While many do not allow it, those that do must inform parents at the beginning on the school year.

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