Senior social worker denies punching teenager in her care
A senior social worker yesterday denied that she punched teenager in her care.
Kennette Robinson, the assistant director of the Department of Child and Family Services, told Magistrates’ Court that she had pushed the teenager after the girl “lunged” at her.
She said: “She lunged at me from behind. She had come at me from behind unexpectedly.”
Mrs Robinson, 52, has denied charges that she assaulted and mistreated a 17-year-old girl in an incident at the LF Wade International Airport in 2019.
The victim – who cannot be identified for legal reasons – was the subject of a care order at the time of the incident.
Mrs Robinson said she had known the teenager for more than two years through her work at the Department.
She explained that on May 8, 2019, she had gone to the airport to escort her on a flight to a treatment centre in Salt Lake City, Utah.
But Mrs Robinson said that as she was on her way to the airport, she received a call from another social worker that the teenager was “blatantly refusing” to go on the trip.
“She was shouting saying she wasn’t going. That she was leaving the airport. That she doesn’t want to go back,” she said.
“At one point she tried to leave the airport and I held her back by her belt.”
Asked why she had grabbed the teen’s belt, Mrs Robinson said the teen had a history of disappearing for days at a time.
Mrs Robinson told the court that during the argument the teen had put down a her backpack, which contained her headphones and iPad, and the defendant had picked it up.
She told the court the teen repeatedly demanded the headphones, but Mrs Robinson said she would get them back once they were through US customs.
She said: “She was pointing in my face and saying she wanted her stuff back.”
Mrs Robinson said she urged the teenager to calm down because she was “crossing a line” and cursing.
She told the court they had missed their initial flight and began efforts to book a later flight, but it became clear because of the teenager’s behaviour that they would not travel that day.
Airport security spoke with Ms Robinson and the teenager and the police were called to pick up the teen so she could be taken back to a local care home.
However Mrs Robinson said while she was still in the airport, the teenager “lunged” at her from behind and tried to pull her backpack from her shoulder.
“Reactively I turned and pushed her out of my personal space,” she said. “I took the bag back from her and told her I would mash this stuff up.
“I took the headphones and threw them to the floor and stomped around them. She began to get upset and started to cry.”
Mrs Robinson said the headphones were the property of the Department, and she had thrown them to the ground to demonstrate that they could be taken away.
She added that she pushed the teenager in her upper chest area, not her neck.
Mrs Robinson denied that she ever punched or mistreated the teen and – while she said she was annoyed by the teen’s behaviour – she denied being angry.
But Cindy Clarke, the Director of Public Prosecutions, suggested that Mrs Robinson had lashed out at the teenager after she lost her temper.
Mrs Clarke said: “There was no reason for you to be concerned that she was going to attack you when she lunged at you from behind.”
She replied: “There were 100 reasons why the situation would change, particularly if she thought I had been the one to call the police.”
Ms Clarke also challenged the idea that Mrs Robinson pretended to destroy the headphones to demonstrate they could be taken away because she had already taken them away.
She suggested that Mrs Robinson had bullied the teenager from the moment she arrived at the airport and punched the teen in the stomach out of anger.
Mrs Robinson said that she had not bullied or punched the teenager at any point.
In her closing remarks, Mrs Clarke said Mrs Robinson had mistreated the teen by forcibly pushing and pulling her, threatening to destroy her property to cause alarm, pushing her and forcibly pushing her hand into the girl’s throat.
She said the complainant had been honest about her own actions and had no reason to lie about being punched by the defendant.
Mrs Clarke said: “We have a defendant who lost their temper at a minor who was anxious, angry and aggressive.
“This is not a situation where I would submit that Mrs Robinson had control of herself or her environment.”
Charles Richardson, counsel for Mrs Robinson, however said there was no evidence to support the victim’s claim that she was punched by the defendant.
He also argued that under the common law, “unnecessary or unjustified pain and suffering” needed to be inflicted for action to be deemed mistreatment, and the allegations fell short of that mark.
Mr Richardson said the actions taken were similar to those that might be taken by any parent of a misbehaving child, but the allegations were elevated because of public concerns about children being sent overseas.
Magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo adjourned the matter until April 21, when he will deliver a judgment.
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