Even ‘Little Monsters’ Have Rights

As litigation lawyers will readily attest, some cases are harder to argue than others.

The same can apply to opinion writers. There are some arguments that are easier to make than to defend the child endangerment charge against Jesse Daniels.

In case you missed the front-page story in Monday’s Hamodia, Mr. Daniels resides in a little town named Clyde (population 2,093) located midway between Rochester and Syracuse. On the evening of June 8, Mr. Daniels heard pounding noises coming from the house next door, which he was in the midst of renovating for his father-in-law. When Daniels went to investigate, he discovered four children — the youngest eight and the oldest only ten — smashing the walls with sledgehammers. From the look of it, it seemed that they had already managed to cause considerable damage, including holes in the walls, broken windows and spray-painted graffiti.

Daniels later estimated that the damage to his father-in-law’s property exceeded $40,000, which sounds farfetched but, if true, is an astonishingly large sum for such little vandals.

All agree that the actions of the youngsters were reprehensible and inexcusable. Not only do these children deserve to be severely punished — they have been charged with burglary and criminal mischief — but their parents and the school they attend must carefully examine how their parenting and education methods failed so miserably.

Daniels had every right to be furious; such a reaction is only to be expected. But he didn’t have the right — or the need — to lock these little monsters in a closet.

As Paul Bowler, the father of two of the boys, told a local media station, “There are other ways to handle it.”

He pointed out that Daniels knew very well who the kids were.

“It’s not like they were strangers. Send the kids home and call the cops then. You don’t sit there and torment them and tell them you’re going to bash their skulls in with a hammer.”

Bowler may have done a particularly bad job at educating his sons, but he does have a very valid point. Unlike adults who may choose to flee the neighborhood rather than face their crimes, eight- and ten-year-olds are very unlikely to wander too far. It wasn’t as if Daniels was forced to take drastic action to defend his property; if he would have only allowed them to, they would have been more than happy to run out of the building.

Even more important, Daniels crossed a very dangerous line. He later told the media that he wasn’t aware that he couldn’t detain children.

Whether he deserves an actual prison sentence should be left up to a judge and a jury. But to let him off the hook just because he was understandably angry about the damage done to his father-in-law’s house would be the wrong thing to do.

A message must be sent out to all adults — regardless of how infuriated they may be by the actions of young children — that they cannot, under any circumstances, take matters into their own hands. Unless there is real, continuing risk to persons or property, adults should never, ever come close to a child engaged in misconduct on their property. Locking young children in a closet is something that can’t be tolerated or ignored, no matter how terrible or outrageous the provocation was.

This isn’t a matter of protecting property from burglars. It’s about protecting little children everywhere. Kids who misbehave should be held responsible for their actions by their parents, teachers, principals and local police officers. Angry neighbors should keep their anger in check and their hands to themselves — or use them to dial 911.