Child restraint bill moves on in House

Published 11:33 am Friday, March 16, 2012

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi, County Attorney Kristen Nelsen, Detective Steve Sandvik, and State Representative Jeanne Poppe testified before the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee in support of tightening Minnesota’s child abuse laws. Photo provided by Rep. Jeanne Poppe

ST. PAUL — When Terese Amazi took the stand at a Minnesota House committee hearing, she made clear how extreme the Millers’ case was.

“In my 28 years in law enforcement, I have never seen a case like this one and I hope to never see one again,” said the Mower County sheriff. “I strongly support making this type of crime a felony.”

A bill which would strengthen a child abuse law made it through a first committee hearing at the House of Representatives Thursday.

Email newsletter signup

If passed, it would change the law in child restraint cases from requiring “substantial” bodily harm to “demonstrable” bodily harm to warrant a felony.

The bill stems from the case of Dexter couple Brian and Charity Miller, who chained their then 5-year-old son to his crib from bedtime until morning each night over a six-month period in 2010 and 2011. They reportedly withheld sufficient food and bathroom access from him and his then 8-year-old brother. Though convicted, the Millers were only charged with a gross misdemeanor and served six months in jail.

“This bill is a result of the sheriff’s department, social services, the county attorney’s office, and the public who witnessed or were made aware of the case seeking greater penalties in these extreme cases,” Poppe said in a news release.

The bill will move to the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee where another hearing will be held. A companion bill is sponsored by Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, and awaits a hearing in the Senate.

The committee hearing over the bill was only given seven minutes, Poppe said, but was done in a “most compelling way.”

During his testimony, Detective Steve Sandvik held up the chains that the Millers had used to restrain their child to his crib.

“He dropped it on the desk and said, ‘this is what this is all about,’” Poppe said. “It was clear he was distraught by the situation.”

In addition to Sandvik and Amazi, Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen testified Thursday.

Committee members didn’t ask any questions during this hearing, Poppe said.

“We hope to have more time to spell out the situation in the next committee,” she said.