Jeff Jardine

October 19, 2013

Jeff Jardine: Preschool teachers deal every day with behavior that has Rod Olsen in trouble

Preschool teachers know how to handle problems like the one that led to misdemeanor charge against husband of Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen.

Every day, in virtually every preschool everywhere, children push and shove. They call one another names. They tell on one another like they’re prepping for the Witness Protection Program.

And, just like in an NFL game, the one who hits back usually gets penalized with a timeout.

Preschool teachers learn to referee and defuse these tiffs. “Lots of redirection,” one local preschool director described it. In most cases, an adult can tell a 4-year-old, “Chucky, you need to say you’re sorry.” The aggressor backs off, both kids go back to running around, and the issue is forgotten within minutes.

Parents usually aren’t there to see these daily dust-ups and how they’re handled.

Which brings us to the case involving Rod Olsen, husband of Assemblywomen Kristin Olsen. He’s been accused of “causing a child to suffer” during an incident at a soccer practice in August. The complaint states that Olsen became enraged because a 4-year-old boy grabbed Olsen’s son and called him a “loser.”

Olsen, according to the court document, grabbed the other kid by the arm and then verbally abused the child’s mother and grandmother. After the practice, mom Ashley Heapy noticed her son had wet his pants and had bruises on his arm where Olsen allegedly grabbed him.

These are allegations to this point, and Olsen will have the opportunity to refute them in court. The court of public opinion, however, isn’t so patient.

Reporter Erin Tracy’s story, published Tuesday in The Bee’s print and online editions, drew roughly 80 comments, none defending Olsen. In fact, some commenters accused the district attorney of filing a misdemeanor instead of felony charge because Olsen’s wife is such a prominent member of the community.

Kristin Olsen served on the Modesto City Council before winning her Assembly seat. Rod Olsen served briefly on the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee, resigning when the family moved to Riverbank and out of the committee district he represented.

Whether he is acquitted or convicted, the charges pretty much quash any political aspirations Rod Olsen might have entertained. Whether this incident hurts his wife’s political future remains to be seen.

The child’s father, Matt Price, was among those who posted on Facebook wondering why Olsen isn’t facing a felony charge. Mark Smith, a retired DA investigator, responded to explain why that didn’t happen. “For this crime, in order for it to be a felony, there must be either intent to do ‘great bodily harm’ or actual ‘great bodily harm,’” he wrote. “The District Attorney is only allowed to charge the crime they think they can prove, and with only bruises, there is no felony crime that can be proved.”

The boy’s mom also posted. “I want justice for my son and for Mr. Olsen, no matter who he is, to be responsible for the damages he’s caused to my son, myself and my family,” Heapy wrote. My translation: The Olsens are going to get sued.

Conviction for a misdemeanor for causing a child to suffer carries a maximum penalty of six months in the county jail, with other options including probation, counseling and a court order to stay away from the victim.

A 2006 case provides a basis for comparison. After seeing two of his sons injured – one had to have his spleen removed – on what he deemed “dirty” plays in the same game in Stockton, a youth football coach from Riverbank charged onto the field and attacked a 13-year-old player on the opposing team.

It set off a melee that was captured on video and shown on NBC’s “Today” show. The coach, Cory Petero, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of inflicting injury upon a child, which could have gotten him a year in jail. Instead, a judge in San Joaquin County sentenced him to serve 45 days in jail or in an alternative work program, take anger-management classes and stay away from the victim.

I’m not sure what is more amazing: that somebody else’s 4-year-old boy could, indeed, cause a grown man to go ballistic or that in an era where everyone is toting electronic gadgetry, no one whipped out an iPhone, caught the alleged incident on video and then posted it on YouTube.

Most parents sign their kids up to play soccer and other sports for the exercise and to instill sportsmanship and the ability to get along with others. Young children are at the front end of that learning curve. Adults are expected to teach them by acting as role models.

Little children do push and shove and call each other names until taught otherwise.

In preschool, they’d handle it with a timeout. A judge could, too.

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