SAN BERNARDINO - A dozen San Bernardino County clergy appeared in court Friday to support Craig Luke, a pastor convicted earlier this month of injuring his 17-year-old son with a belt. "We're at a time when we can't discipline our kids," said the Rev. Raymond Turner, chairman of the Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches. "If we don't discipline our kids, the system will abuse them."
The clergy members prayed outside a San Bernardino courtroom where Luke's bail was set at $25,000. Luke was in court to appeal his Dec. 8 conviction on a charge of corporal punishment or injury on a child resulting in a traumatic condition.
His punishment includes a 120-day term in a county jail.
Luke, 38, was arrested in January after hitting his son with a belt, leaving welts and bruises on the teen's left arm, attorneys said. Luke had returned home less than an hour away and found that the teen, whom he had left in charge of children aged 1 and 2 years, had left them alone.
Luke, who travels to juvenile halls and convalescent homes to preach, declined comment.
Luke participates in the San Bernardino school district's "Pastors on the Premises" program, which involves local clergy roaming campuses to reduce fighting and tension among students.
Deputy District Attorney Marc Guillory said Friday that the case would have been a felony assault if it had not been between a father and son.
"No kind of person or animal should be treated like that," Guillory said of the beating. "It wasn't humane."
Guillory said Luke handcuffed the teenager and beat him for five minutes. He said the boy cut his hands when he hit the glass in a picture frame in frustration afterward.
"This was clearly a case of going too far in disciplining your child," Guillory said. "Anyone who doesn't see that this isn't excessive isn't thinking objectively."
Guillory said the teenager, a student at an alternative high school, was visiting his girlfriend at another high school on Jan. 10 when a security guard noticed him washing blood off his arms. He said the school called authorities.
Allison Nelson, a Riverside County deputy district attorney who supervises the sexual assault and child abuse unit, said corporal punishment cases rarely reach juries.
"We sometimes send 'knock-it-off' letters to the parents telling them not to do it again," Nelson said. "Only the smallest percentage of cases are prosecuted."
Nelson said the conviction by 12 jurors shows that Luke crossed the line between discipline and abuse.
Luke's attorney, Edward Stoliker, said Luke declined a plea bargain because he wanted his day in court. The case would not have reached a jury a couple generations ago, he said.
"There is a political correctness to the charge," Stoliker said. "My generation was commonly spanked with a switch or paddle."
Stoliker, a 58-year-old father of three boys, said parents are in a quandary because they are legally obligated to supervise their children, yet could get arrested for disciplining them.
The lesson from the case is "don't leave marks," Stoliker said.
Stoliker said Luke is the father of five children, 2 to 17 years. He said authorities removed all five from his home after the arrest, then returned them in September. He said the 17-year-old lives with his mother in San Bernardino. They could not be reached for comment.
Reach John F. Berry at (909) 806-3058 or firstname.lastname@example.org
See: Time to get serious
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