On August 28, a 35-year-old man from Irvine, his girlfriend, and his two sons from a previous marriage went on a cruise on Newport Harbor. About 1 p.m., the man was horsing around with one of his sons, a 7-year-old, but that horseplay got out of hand and ended with the boy in the water. Prosecutors claim that the Irvine man intentionally threw his son overboard, and they’re not calling it horseplay. They’re calling it family violence.

The Orange County district attorney’s office has charged the father with felony child abuse and child endangerment, as well as a misdemeanor count of resisting a police officer. If convicted on all of the charges, he could face six years in prison. He could lose his custodial or visitation rights with his sons, and they could lose their father. He pled not guilty to all charges on Monday.

According to prosecutors, the father had been drinking before he began teasing and playfully pestering his son. It is not clear if prosecutors claim that he was drunk, or whether he had enjoyed a single drink with lunch on the afternoon cruise. While the father has said that the teasing was harmless horseplay, the prosecutor claims that the man poked his son repeatedly in the chest and slapped him on the face.

The 7-year-old was apparently not enjoying it, as prosecutors claim that the boy began to cry and asked his dad to stop because it was hurting him. According to the prosecutor, the father responded by picking up his son and tossing him overboard, then jumped into the water after him.

The boat’s captain halted the cruise, maneuvered around to protect the boy from other boats, and threw him a life ring. The D.A.’s office claims that the Irvine man did not try to help his son, and ultimately another boat in the area pulled the boy out of the harbor.

After pleading not guilty to all charges at his arraignment on Monday, the father was released on $100,000 bail and scheduled for a preliminary hearing on October 4. The preliminary hearing is the point in the criminal justice process where a judge determines whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to move forward with the charges.

Allegations of family violence are always troubling, but the question of whether abuse has occurred is often complex. Is this the story of a drunken father tormenting his child, or is it, perhaps, the story of a man who enjoyed a glass of wine during a sunny afternoon on the water, rough-housed with his son, then mischievously tossed him into the water and jumped in after him?

Whether the man’s actions were misguided but playful or reckless and abusive will be up to a judge and jury. The stakes are high, both for the dad and for his children. We should take great care not to judge before all the facts are in.

Source: Daily Pilot, “Man accused of throwing son overboard pleads not guilty,” Britney Barnes, Sept. 26, 2011