On April 2 at 12:30 p.m., I witnessed an adult male physically abuse his son, who was about two years old; a second, seven- or eight-year-old son was also present at the Wave House in Mission Beach, where this incident occurred.
The approximately 6’1”, 220-pound man, with sandy neck-length hair, was dressed in jeans and a beige T-shirt. The younger child, whose face was wrinkled with a sort of desperation (as though his day had already been a long one), walked away from the man as the three were entering the Wave House membership office. The man turned and grabbed the child by his arm and carried him — by one arm — approximately eight feet into the membership office and thrust him into a chair.
The sobbing child got up from the chair and the man grabbed him again, squeezing his arms just below the shoulders, and thrust him back into the chair. Through glass, I could see the man yelling at the child, his face close to the boy’s face, as he squeezed his arms and shook him. I was unable to hear what he was saying.
As the man exited the building with the children, I shared my concerns with a Wave House employee and requested the man’s name so I could report the incident to the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.
“I’ll have to check our policies,” said the employee, Tom Stone.
I then followed up with a call to the Child Abuse Prevention hotline. My call revealed a flaw in their system: the department had no way of confirming whether or not a complaint had been filed. My name and phone number failed to show up in any reports.
Next, I called the San Diego Police Department and spoke with a dispatcher named Scott. I asked if the SDPD could call the Wave House and obtain the perpetrator’s name so that a report could be filed with the county. The dispatcher informed me that due to privacy laws, they would not be able to provide me with the perpetrator’s name, even if they were able to obtain it, which he doubted would be the case.
Margo Fudge, a Health and Human Services media representative, told me, “Thank you for doing what you have. You’ve probably spent several hours of your day trying to report this incident. A lot of people are afraid to make reports or just don’t bother. Sometimes it’s difficult to learn identities. But, we rely on the community to protect these kids.”
Fudge stated that her department investigates over 100 child-abuse calls daily; 70,000 calls annually.
The police department suggests that those who witness an incident of child abuse call the police as it is happening. The call can be made anonymously. If the parties are leaving, follow them to their vehicle and obtain the vehicle’s license-plate number.
“While I agree with you that child safety should trump privacy laws, it doesn’t at the moment,” said an SDPD representative. “Doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot we can do if you don’t have the guy’s name or license number.”
The SDPD has placed a call to the Wave House requesting a return call from Stone.