HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A felony charge of torture/willful abuse of a child against the founder and pastor of Huntsville Christian Academy has been dismissed just one day after his arrest.
The case has taken a number of turns in less than two weeks.
William Reginald Whiddon, 68, was indicted by a grand jury on March 15. Whiddon was booked into the Madison County Jail on the abuse charge on Monday. He was released two hours after his arrest on a $1,500 bond, records show.
The Madison County District Attorney’s office filed a motion to drop the charge, involving an 8-year-old child shortly before 1 p.m., Tuesday. Circuit Judge Claude Hundley approved the motion about two hours later.
WHNT News 19 has learned Whiddon made a report to the Madison County Sheriff's Office in February regarding an allegation against him and corporal punishment he administered at Huntsville Christian Academy. The case was then investigated by the Huntsville Police Department and a sheriff's office investigator, a sheriff's office spokesman said Tuesday.
According to the private school's handbook, corporal punishment is part of the school's discipline policies.
Madison County Assistant District Attorney Tim Douthit told WHNT New 19 that the Huntsville Police Department asked him to bring the case to the grand jury. But, Douthit explained, he never thought his office would be able to successfully prosecute it.
He says it comes down to the burden of proof. Alabama law defines torture/willful abuse of a child as torture, abuse, cruelly beating, or other maltreatment of a child under the age of 18.
Douthit says given the evidence, he cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Whiddon intended to torture or abuse the 8-year-old. Whiddon followed the law and the school's policy regarding corporal punishment, Douthit said.
"Everything that I have seen, everything that this investigation revealed from the medical professionals, the educational professionals, and the lay witness has led me to believe that this was in policy, and was intended to be a normally administered corporal punishment which whether you like it, or not, is legal in Alabama," Douthit said.
The school handbook defines corporal correction as an option "when a student’s behavior is too serious for detention."
The handbook says if school staff administers corporal correction it is in private with a staff member present and that no more than three swats will be given per occurrence.
The school policy indicates parents are notified and given an opportunity to administer the corporal correction instead of the staff. Parents are also supposed to receive a written report of the correction. The policy states students will not be physically restrained and if they refuse to cooperate fully, then parents will be called immediately to come and handle the situation.
Douthit said after the corporal punishment was administered, the child's mother complained.
The principal of Huntsville Christian Academy told WHNT News 19 Tuesday that Whiddon voluntarily took administrative leave. The principal also said she believed Whiddon would be found not guilty -- before his case was dismissed Tuesday afternoon.
"Pastor Reggie has faithfully served HCA since 1994 with this isolated allegation being the only accusation against him. He has voluntarily taken an administrative leave while we rely on the justice system to find him without fault, restoring his good name as a faithful servant of God."
The Madison County Sheriff's Office also revealed Whiddon is a chaplain at the Madison County Jail. He was relieved of those duties pending the outcome of this case.