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Is using hot sauce as punishment in the day care setting simply wrong, or possibly criminal?

The seemingly simple question has a complicated answer if you ask prosecutors and attorneys across Alabama.

The question is being asked after parents from Hoover First United Methodist Church’s Day School reported that hot sauce was being fed to children as punishment.

Pastor Jimmy Bassham confirmed the reports to his congregation during a Sunday service.

“It turns out that for some time, years if not decades, our day school has had a practice when a child bites another child, or when a child misbehaves, they have hot sauce put on their tongues,” Bassham said. “This practice has stopped. It will never be done again.”

“This is disturbing,” said Barry Matson, Executive Director of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association. “It needs investigating. And it needs to be looked into. And if the elements of the offense are there, then I feel confident in the law enforcement of Jefferson County and the DA’s office going forward.”

Health and Safety Standards from Alabama Department of Human Resources specifically prohibit the use of hot sauce as punishment on children in the day care setting.

Matson says without knowing specific details, he cannot comment on whether what happened at this day school rose to the level of a criminal act.

Hoover Police Department (HPD) began an investigation after a mother filed a report with the agency. When it determined the church is actually in unincorporated Jefferson County, HPD turned its investigation over to the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources (DHR).

A spokesman for DHR told 1819 News the agency can’t comment on child welfare cases.

At this point, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office says it has no record of DHR reaching out to open a criminal investigation into this.

“A report from DHR or a complaint or report by a family member, victim, would begin the process of law enforcement investigating it,” Matson explained. “For them, they would have to like every case, look at what are the facts that we have.”

Any determination of any potential charges would have to consider the intent, extent of injuries and the ability to prove them, Matson said.

“Somebody’s going to have to be able to prove someone acted intentionally and they intended to cause physical injury to a child, and that not only they intended to cause physical injury, but that they caused it,” Matson added.

Matson said any parental approval of the discipline policy could be a factor, or even the type of hot sauce used could play a role in any potential legal case.

“If the hot sauce merely was uncomfortable and it hurt a little, but it was more uncomfortable, it would be different than if they put a hot sauce on there that caused burning and extended pain, loss of taste, those kinds of things,” Matson said. “That would change the degree.”

So where does the investigation stand? Hoover Police turned its investigation over to Jefferson County DHR, but DHR has not reached out to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to open a criminal investigation.

“DHR, if they believe a crime has occurred, they will notify law enforcement about that and law enforcement will do the investigation,” Matson said. “But the ends of their investigations don’t always and don’t have to intersect. You can have DHR indicate, their report say ‘no abuse indicated’ but yet we still prosecute. Or they could indicate abuse, and law enforcement say there may have been abuse but we can’t prove it. So, you could have mutually exclusive findings between law enforcement and DHR.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email Lauren.Walsh@1819News.com

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