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Boy punished with hot sauce was in minor trouble at school

Casey Grove

A boy whose mother forced him to swish hot sauce in his mouth and gave him a cold shower was in trouble at school for a minor infraction, according to his teacher, who testified Thursday at the mother's trial for child abuse.

Jessica Beagley's son -- a 7-year-old twin adopted from Russia -- had been play-fighting with pencils in October 2010, said Moira Van Alstine, his first-grade teacher that year.

Beagley, 36, faces one count of misdemeanor child abuse for her disciplinary methods, which were featured on a Nov. 17 segment of the nationally televised "Dr. Phil" show titled "Mommy Confessions."

Video played in court Wednesday showed Beagley holding a blue piece of paper and yelling at the boy for getting in trouble. She then ordered him to put hot sauce in his mouth and forced him into a cold shower while the boy screamed and cried.

Beagley's lawyer, William Ingaldson, said during opening statements Wednesday that while his client is a strict mother, her discipline does not rise to the level of criminal child abuse. The trial continued Thursday with testimony from the alleged victim's former teachers, including Van Alstine, who taught the boy for the 2010-2011 school year.

Van Alstine explained in court Thursday that the blue paper in Beagley's hand is part of a color-card system that represents a student's behavior.

When they are behaving well, the student's green card is showing, Van Alstine said. They might get a yellow card as a warning, and if the behavior doesn't improve, a blue card and a timeout comes next, she said.

Orange and red cards might follow, but Beagley's son never "pulled" either of those, Van Alstine said.

For the pencil-fighting incident, Beagley's son was asked to fill out a blue piece of paper describing, in pictures, what he did wrong and what he should do differently in the future, Van Alstine said.

Van Alstine said Beagley came to talk to the her after school about what had happened.

"She started to get a little teary, and she said, 'I hope you don't have to report this, but I'm going to be on the 'Dr. Phil' show,' " Van Alstine said. "She said, 'I guess my friends tell me I'm an angry mom.' "

Van Alstine testified she thought Beagley's statement was strange. "I wasn't sure what she meant about reporting," she said. "I was thinking, 'What's going on here? Did I miss something?' "

Municipal prosecutor Cynthia Franklin asked Van Alstine if she thought the boy was a problem child.

"No, not a troublemaker, and certainly for me, he fell right in the range of behavior for a first-grader," Van Alstine said.

Ingaldson asked Van Alstine if she'd ever had reason to think Beagley had abused the boy.

"If you have kids you suspect have been abused, you have an obligation to report it?" Ingaldson asked.

"Yes," Van Alstine said.

"And have you ever had to do that for the Beagleys?"

"No," Van Alstine replied. "(Jessica) always makes sure her kids are there on time, they're clean, healthy, smiling."

The prosecution rested its case on Thursday. The defense is expected to continue today.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.


By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com