Schaquana Spears, 30, was arrested on felony cruelty charges for hitting her sons, ages 10, 12 and 13, with an electrical cord after she found out they burglarized a neighbor’s home, police said.
A Baton Rouge mother who caught her three sons breaking into a residence was arrested Tuesday after she whipped them as a punishment, East Baton Rouge deputies said.
But the decision to jail 30-year-old Schaquana Evita Spears on child cruelty counts was questioned by the local district attorney and scolded by strangers as far away as California, prompting a debate about where to draw the line between well-meaning discipline and child abuse.
Even Lisa Nicholson, the 45-year-old neighbor who said it was her house that was burglarized by Spears’ children, said she thought the single mother of six should be commended, not arrested. Though she wasn’t home at the time of the break-in, Nicholson said that as the homeowner she could have had killed the boys out of panic when they busted her back window.
“If it was me,” she said, “I’m gonna beat you before I let the cops kill you. I’m gonna do what I have to do. I’m not gonna let (my children) steal and kill and do all of that. I’m not gonna let them fall victim to the streets.”
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Spears, who has worked as a cook and opened a small catering business, admitted she hit her three sons — ages 10, 12 and 13 — after she caught them breaking into the residence near her house at 5470 Satinwood Drive on Friday, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.
Her 13-year-old son, interviewed by child services officials at the juvenile detention center, told authorities Spears struck him multiple times with an RCA cord. RCA cables are used to connect devices like VCRs and DVD players to TV sets or CD players to stereo receivers.
He had lacerations to both of his arms and marks across his leg, shoulder, back and stomach, causing some bleeding, the report says.
Juvenile justice officials said they could not reveal why the son was at the juvenile facility.
The other two boys also had some injuries, with the 12-year-old showing cuts on his arm and the youngest child receiving a small scratch to the hand, according to the document. Spears was accused of two counts of cruelty to juveniles.
“Surely you would expect a parent to discipline a child who is burglarizing other people’s homes as this could be a deadly encounter for the child,” said East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III, whose office would handle Spears’ criminal charges, if they are prosecuted.
Moore said Spears’ case is being reviewed, including the seriousness of the boys’ injuries. He noted she has no prior convictions.
Spears’ criminal history includes a theft count in 2008 which was dismissed, according to court records.
In the Friday incident, her sons stole a hoverboard, electronics and socks from Nicholson’s house, and Spears immediately ordered the boys to return the items, Nicholson said. The goods belonged to Nicholson’s 13-year-old son, Trayquan, who said some but not all of his belongings have been returned.
“We oftentimes see children who have no parental authority or discipline which eventually results in delinquency and criminal acts,” Moore said. “We need more parents who discipline their children.”
Glenn Nettles, 53, came by Spears’ empty house Tuesday to see if his friend was inside. Nettles said Spears called him from jail, telling him her children were now being cared for by her mother, who lives out of town. He said he believes Spears’ 13-year-old is her eldest.
“She loves her kids. She don’t beat her kids,” Nettles said, noting the distinction, echoed by Nicholson, between “beating,” abuse that might involve chains and fists, and “whupping,” which he said is an acceptable form of punishment.
“Everybody ‘whup’ their kids,” he said. “They do something wrong. What are you supposed to do?”
Nettles said he used to train Spears when they worked in the kitchen at the Hilton Garden Inn, calling her a “real sweet” person.
A Facebook page that appears to belong to Spears shows a business card for “MyHeartInIt Catering & Creationz,” listing her name and address. The profile includes many pictures of elaborate culinary spreads, some with pineapples sprouting from towers of fruit.
No one answered the door at her one-story house on Tuesday. A toddler’s toy scooter was the only vehicle outside.
Casey Rayborn Hicks, spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, said she was unable to comment on the criticisms of Spears’ arrest.
An online article in The Advocate about Spears on Tuesday drew some 1,200 comments by that night, as well as at least one donation pledge from a stranger in Oakland, California.
Louis Villa, 83, called the paper asking where he could pay Spears’ $2,500 bail.
“I had a single parent, and hey, she had to discipline us. Yeah, I got hit by an ironing cord, but it made me a better person. It saved my life,” Villa said, adding he imagined Spears might be like his mother: a single black mom who might not have the support she needs.
“She explained why she had to hit us, why she had to discipline us, why we had to be home at a certain time,” Villa said. “It just is not easy for black women in America.”
Nettles said an acquaintance who works as a lawyer is trying to help Spears post bail. As of Tuesday night, records showed Spears was still an inmate.