Supporters of 'Paxton's law' outraged over early release of convicted abuser

by: COURTESY OF CRYSTAL NAGEL - An image shared on Facebook by Crystal Nagel purports to show what appear to be welts on the back of Paxton Pitts, Nagel's 2-year-old son. Pitts' father's fiancee pleaded guilty this month to assaulting the child, but she served less than a day in jail before being released. Nagel now says she wants Oregon to adopt stronger statutes to deal with perpetrators of child abuse.A new petition on calling for Oregon’s governor and legislature to adopt a law against child abuse has gathered more than 400 signatures since Friday, July 18.

The organizer of the petition, St. Helens resident Candace Collins, explains on the website that the petition was inspired by the story of a St. Helens toddler whose babysitter was convicted this month of assaulting him, but served little jail time for the offense.

“This petition has started, because of a little boy named Paxton. Paxton was abused by his babysitter over a 9 month period of time,” Collins wrote, calling for “Paxton’s law” to impose tougher sentences for child abuse. “The sitter was only in jail a total of 16 hours after reporting to serve her sentence.”

Like many other states, Oregon does not define child abuse as a specific offense. It does define the deliberate infliction of physical injury on a child up to the age of 10 by an adult as assault in the third degree — a felony in Oregon. Intentionally causing serious physical injury to a child age 5 or younger is considered assault in the first degree.

The boom of attention to state statutes governing the assault of a minor began after Crystal Nagel, also of St. Helens, made several posts last week to a popular Facebook group called “Concerned Citizens of Columbia County (revised)” about her 2-year-old son, Paxton Pitts, and the babysitter, Natasha Kral.

Nagel said she contacted authorities after Paxton returned from Kral’s care with a split lip and welts on his back and buttocks. Kral was ultimately arrested and tried for assault in the third degree.

Kral — whose fiance is Paxton’s father, Brandon Pitts — pleaded guilty to the assault charge on July 9. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail, plus 20 days on a county work crew and three years of supervised probation.

But Kral served time for less than a day after reporting to jail on Monday, July 14. She was released the following morning.

Kim Silverman, the Columbia County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Kral’s case, said she successfully pushed for Kral to be given 20 days of community service rather than a full 30 days in jail — the presumptive sentence for the offense to which Kral pleaded — knowing she could be released early due to limited room at the Columbia County Jail.

“I thought our outcome, given what we had to work with, was better — as good or better — than what we could expect at open sentencing,” Silverman said.

Both Silverman and John Berg, another deputy DA for the county who prosecutes child abuse cases, said judges and juries can be unpredictable. In one notable case Berg prosecuted earlier this year, a judge declined to send a Vernonia man convicted of repeatedly assaulting a toddler to prison, instead sentencing him to jail and probation.

Silverman said she understands Nagel’s reaction to Kral’s penalty.

“What I told Ms. Nagel’s family is if you don’t agree with the way the sentencing guideline grid works, then I encourage them to write their legislators, write the Criminal Justice Commission and the governor,” Silverman said. “You know, there are a lot of crimes that I’m not satisfied with their [sentencing guideline] grid lock, this being one of them. But my job isn’t to do what I want. My job is to enforce the laws of the state of Oregon.”

Nagel and her supporters seem to have taken Silverman’s suggestion to heart.

Nagel’s posts on Facebook have received hundreds of comments, many expressing outrage over Pitts’ assault and Kral’s sentence, and were reposted on the group page and elsewhere on Facebook. Nagel also supports Collins’ petition, which she shared on her own Facebook page and on a new group page she created called Team Paxton. The group page has already garnered about 500 “likes” from fellow Facebook users.

“I think that if the person who did this to Paxton had gotten a bigger charge, then she would not have walked out of jail 16 hours after being sentenced,” Nagel said. “Because it was just assault in the third degree, she was up to just be matrixed out.”

The Columbia County Jail uses a matrix system to determine which inmates to hold and which should be released. The jail has a limited capacity due to budget constraints, although voters approved a three-year funding measure in May that allows it to increase staffing levels and accommodate more inmates at a time.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office said in a July 1 post on its website that “the influx of staff and additional funding for jail services will mean that the 25 local beds that can be filled today will eventually return to 100 local beds.”

Nagel expressed appreciation for the response she got on Facebook to her son’s case, although she said she was “pretty shocked that it became what it became.”

“If it wasn’t for social media, it would have never got out,” said Nagel. She added, “I was actually glad, because a lot of people were able to be aware of what happened.”

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