People are worked up over a dog, but what about kids? [opinion]

Date: 2011-04-08

People are worked up over a dog, but what about kids?
April 8, 2011

There's a decent chance you've heard about the disturbing case unfolding in Winnebago County right now. It has received quite a bit of publicity in the northeastern part of Wisconsin - indeed, around the globe - and is likely to receive quite a bit more by the time it works its way through the courts.

A dog, a pit bull-mix named Snoop, was found dead on an Oshkosh sidewalk in late March, and its owner, 19-year-old Bryan Hutcherson, has been charged with mistreatment. Hutcherson told police that he stopped feeding the dog because it was stressful and cost too much, according to the complaint. In other words, it is alleged, Snoop starved to death.

An online petition started by a woman in Buffalo, N.Y., is asking that Hutcherson be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Thousands of people from Portugal to Pennsylvania already have signed it. Hutcherson's face has been on TV. He's in the papers. People all over the world are outraged, and at least some of them are already emailing the district attorney's office to make sure prosecutors don't drop the ball.

Winnebago County Deputy District Attorney Scott Ceman says he hasn't seen a case get this much attention in his area in at least three years.

Do you have any idea how many kids die of child abuse or neglect in Wisconsin in just one year?

In 2009 alone, there were 23, according to the Children's Service Society of Wisconsin. That year in this state, there were also 930 substantiated cases of physical abuse of a child, 1,406 substantiated cases of sexual abuse of a child, 62 substantiated cases of emotional abuse of a child and 2,809 substantiated cases of child neglect.

I was recently alerted to just one alleged case of neglect from that year up in Oconto County, one that hasn't received much - if any - attention. This is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a good time to change that.

David and Jan Carpenter have been charged with neglect of a little girl they adopted in November 2008. Just shy of 3 years old at the time, she was small, only 23 pounds. Eleven months later, in October 2009, she weighed even less, only 21 pounds - about what a 1-year-old typically weighs. By then, she was almost 4.

A doctor at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, according to the criminal complaint filed in March 2010 against David Carpenter, told the Oconto County Child Protective Services that the girl looked "like a concentration camp survivor." The child, the doctor indicated in a report, had "no subcutaneous tissue to speak of." She suffered from severe malnutrition, according to the criminal complaint, as well as an unexplained subdural hematoma.

The Oconto County Department of Health and Human Services removed the girl from the care of the Carpenters due to her "severely emaciated condition, her injuries and the lack of medical care or any other support services," according to the complaint.

The prosecutor in the case, Jane Krueger Smith, declined to comment, and David Carpenter's defense attorney, Royce Finne, said it's a "fairly complicated case" that is hard to synopsize in a few sentences. His client, he said, denies any physical abuse of the child and doesn't know how she would have gotten bruised. Finne also said that a plea offer made at one point has been withdrawn.

The case - as well as the one filed against Jan Carpenter - is still working its way through the courts, so we don't know what's ultimately going to happen.

Whatever it is, I sort of doubt it will get much attention, though. Not like it would if the little girl were a dog.

Mike Nichols is a former full-time columnist with the Journal Sentinel and is now a senior fellow with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan conservative think tank. His column reflects his personal perspective and runs every Saturday in the Journal Sentinel. Email MRNichols@wi.rr.com

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