Walworth County judge chooses prison over probation in child abuse case

ELKHORN—Walworth County Judge Kristine Drettwan had to choose prison or probation Thursday when sentencing an Elkhorn man who pleaded guilty to breaking a toddler’s leg and wrist.

Drettwan chose prison, despite the recommendations of the man’s defense attorney and a pre-sentence investigation report from the state Department of Corrections.

She sentenced Tafeon D. Hickembottom, 21, to 18 months in prison for the two counts of abuse involving a 20-month-old boy.

Drettwan said she was “on the fence” and had to consider probation if appropriate, but she said the crime’s severity called for prison time.

Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo had asked for a two-year prison sentence.

Donohoo criticized the Department of Corrections, saying its tendency to recommend probation stems from the cost of confinement.

“It’s very difficult to give credibility to those recommendations anymore,” Donohoo said. “It’s the system that’s becoming the problem. There’s always issues of money.”

Julia May, Hickembottom’s lawyer, argued probation sentences are about results.

“Evidence is showing that prison doesn’t work,” May said. “If we send him to prison, he’s not going to get counseling, at least not appropriate counseling.

“He’s going to go in with people that are a much higher risk than he is. He’s going to become normalized to that population,” she said. “And he’s going to come out, and he’s going to have a higher chance of committing crimes in the future.”

Hickembottom has no serious criminal record, both lawyers said.

Hickembottom’s sentencing was postponed last month when his mother could not get a ride to court, online records show. She was not in court Thursday.

May argued that Hickembottom took responsibility for his actions. The victim was not his child, so he was thrust into parenting without adequate preparation, she said.

In February, police were dispatched to Lakeland Medical Center, Elkhorn, for a report of a child with a left spiral femur fracture, according to the criminal complaint. After reviewing medical records, police also found the boy had an arm fracture diagnosed in October.

Police spoke with Hickembottom, and he admitted he was frustrated and rough with the boy, spinning him around by his leg, according to the complaint. Hickembottom also said he “might have” broken the boy’s arm by swinging him around in a circle.

Hickembottom spoke briefly and apologized to the victim and the victim’s mother.

Donohoo said the two instances were months apart, so the abuse was not a heat-of-the moment act.

“The best indicator of the future is the past,” Donohoo said.

May said although Hickembottom has no kids of his own, he wanted to take parenting classes so he could avoid making the same mistakes.

Drettwan said parenting is the hardest job she has ever had. When Hickembottom assumed a parental role, he should have known better, she said.

Adam Doud, the victim’s step-grandfather, said the boy was hurt in a “crucial” stage of development. What the boy went through was “unfathomable,” he said.

Doud said in his experience of raising children, even some who are not his own, he always knew he had a choice to walk away when he got frustrated.

“That was not chosen (by Hickembottom),” Doud said.

Hickembottom also was sentenced to three years of extended supervision. Conditions in his sentence include getting education, employment and anger management counseling.

First, he will go to prison.

“This case screams out, just as that child screamed out, this case screams out for that prison sentence,” Donohoo said.

Drettwan expressed concern about how the incident will affect the boy’s future.

“I hope that he doesn’t remember any of this,” she said. “You are responsible for that.”

Source: http://www.gazettextra.com/20170727/walworth_county_judge_chooses_prison_over_probation_in_child_abuse_case