BELFAST — A Brooks man accused last spring of kicking his 7-year-old son in the back and using a dog’s shock collar to punish the boy and his older sister pleaded guilty this week at Waldo County Superior Court to two counts of aggravated domestic violence assault.
But if James Kuhn, 28, can follow the conditions set for him for one year, the charges will be reduced in severity and he will be sentenced to 364 days in jail, with all but 15 of those days suspended. He also will be placed on probation for a year. If Kuhn is not successful during the year-long period of deferred disposition, he will be sentenced to class C felony abuse charges in open court — a crime which carries a sentence of up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.
“Looking at the initial charges as charged, maybe the sentence seems on the low side,” defense attorney Philip Cohen of Waldoboro said Thursday. “However, there are several factors here. There are children who would have to testify. I’m guessing the [Waldo County District Attorney] would take that into consideration.”
Kuhn’s son came to the Morse Elementary School in tears one morning last March, triggering his teachers to ask questions that ultimately led to police intervention and caused the school to be placed temporarily on lockdown so that the father could not take the boy home.
Deputy Nick Oettinger of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office was called by school administrators to come talk to the second grader, who had told a school administrator that his father had tried to break his back. When Oettinger met with the boy, he saw a red mark and bruise on his back. The boy told the officer that his father also punished him by whipping him with towels, dragging him by the hair and recently by using a dog’s shock collar. Kuhn subjected his sister to the same punishments, the boy told the officer.
The boy said that sometimes his father would bring him to Wal-Mart and “walk away when he went to the bathroom,” Oettinger wrote in the police narrative filed in support of Kuhn’s arrest. The boy said that Kuhn at times would hide and make him feel like he had been abandoned.
School administrators had gotten in touch that day with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to report their concerns about the family and the caseworker let Kuhn know that the children’s mother would pick them up from school. But Kuhn then drove to the Mount View Elementary School to pick up his daughter, Oettinger wrote that he immediately requested a “lock out” at the Morse Elementary School because he felt that the boy was in direct danger if he went home with his father.
Kuhn did go to the school minutes after the lockdown began, and a school employee confronted him outside and asked him to leave the property. Officers went to Brooks and found Kuhn, arresting him with domestic violence assault, and the children went home with their mother.
Because Kuhn had been convicted in 2009 of domestic violence assault, the charges against him were elevated to class C.
In order to get a good outcome for his deferred disposition, he has to adhere to the bail conditions, which include only having contact with his children if allowed by family court. Cohen, his attorney, said that Kuhn does not have any special bail conditions stipulated, such as being ordered to take any parenting or anger management classes.