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Teacher is charged with abuse, neglect


Teacher is charged with abuse, neglect

Howard M. Unger

March 30, 2001

Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Bradenton teacher and former social worker was formally charged Thursday with two felony counts of child abuse.

Arrested March 8 after Bradenton police suspected she beat her adopted 4-year-old son with a bat and tied him up, Wanda Bennett was charged with aggravated child abuse and child neglect for what prosecutors say amounted to nearly five months of torture.

Both charges carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

State attorneys decided not to charge Bennett with abusing her two biological children and another adopted son, even though police initially suspected they might also have been abused.

Bennett, 40, was arrested at Harllee Middle School, where she has been suspended from her position as a special education teacher. She remains in the Manatee County jail on $52,000 bail.

According to reports, Bennett beat the adopted 4-year-old regularly with shoes to punish him and tied him up with old socks to keep him from eating.

The boy was hospitalized after Bennett's arrest. He weighed 35 pounds when police removed him from the home.

Later, at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, doctors found six recent fractures and marks on the child's back that appear to be from beatings.

They also found cigarette burns on his back.

Bennett's other sons are 2, 8 and 10.

One of them is the 4-year-old's brother. All four boys have been transferred to local group homes or shelters.

Before working at Harllee Middle School, Bennett worked for the state Department of Children and Families in Manatee County and in Tampa in the late 1990s.

She was a police officer for the Dallas Police Department from 1987 to 1995.

The investigation into the woman began Feb. 20, after she dropped the boy off at a day-care center with cuts on his face and neck. The boy was "going in and out of consciousness," and a day-care worker called for an ambulance.

Staff writer Howard M. Unger can be contacted at 742-6163 or howard.unger@herald-trib.com.

2001 Mar 30