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Game of catch turns violent, father arrested in videotaped beating

Anthony Sanchez

By Michael Martinez and Nick Valencia

(CNN) — An elected official in California has been arrested on accusations of felony child abuse after a neighbor videotaped him beating his stepson with a belt during a backyard game of catch, authorities told CNN Saturday.

Anthony Sanchez, 34, a director with the Imperial County Irrigation District, turned himself in to authorities Friday afternoon, said Imperial County Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Sheppeard.

The case will be presented to the Imperial County District Attorney’s office on Monday on whether a charge will be formally filed, Sheppeard told CNN.

Sanchez, a resident of Heber, was released Friday after posting bond on $100,000 bail, a jail clerk told CNN.

Sanchez is also a T-ball and soccer coach, CNN affiliate KGTV reported.

In an interview with CNN, Sanchez’s attorney, Ryan Childers, said that the man who’s videotaped whipping a boy with a belt is Sanchez.

But Childers said he doesn’t agree that the videotaped interaction between Sanchez and his 10-year-old stepson warrants the stiff charge of felony child abuse, which carries a maximum sentence of six years in state prison.

“Certainly the video is hard to watch. We acknowledge that,” Childers told CNN. “The question concerning that though is, was this criminal conduct under California law, and if so, is this the most serious type of child abuse? Is this an appropriate charge? What’s appropriate here and what is criminal conduct is what is the issue here.”

Sanchez was first elected in 2006 to the board of directors of the Imperial Irrigation District, a public water and electric utility, and was re-elected to another four-year term in 2010, according to the district’s website. He also serves as an adviser in a district ethics initiative.

Sanchez represents a geographical area that includes Heber, a 115-mile drive east from downtown San Diego and about five miles from the Mexican border.

“Mr. Sanchez has been a model citizen. He’s an elected official in our community. Up until this incident, his background is what you would expect of someone in leadership,” Childers said.

The videotape was made Wednesday, Childers said.

In the video, a neighbor holds a camera from inside the second story of a home, taping Sanchez and the stepson playing catch with a baseball.

In the 88-second recording, Sanchez and the boy are both wearing mitts, and Sanchez walks toward the boy and, in a confrontation, strikes the boy on his rear-end on three separate occasions with a belt.

The boy appears to cry and tries to shield himself from the whipping. Sanchez appears angry, pointing his finger at the boy.

The neighbor, a man, then shouts and uses profanity through a screen and window blinds:

“That’s enough…” the man yells. “That’s enough!

Sanchez, who’s now off camera, says something to the neighbor about having “a problem with the way I’m raising…” and his voice trails off.

Neighbor: “I have a habit, a … problem with you beating the … out of him because he won’t catch the damn ball.”

Sanchez: “You know my son?”

Neighbor: “I don’t know your son, but I’m watching. I’m a … father, too.”

Sanchez: “Oh yeah?”

Neighbor: “There’s got to be a better way to treat him than … trying to teach with a ball like that.”

Sanchez says something inaudible.

Neighbor: “Why don’t you come over here and teach me!”

As the neighbor suddenly bangs the window blinds with the camera and gets ready to move, a woman in the background blurts out: “Oh, my God, Oscar.”

The tape ends.

Regarding that abrupt ending to an escalating confrontation, Sheppeard of the sheriff’s department said that “there wasn’t any additional crimes committed after the camera came off. “At least we haven’t established that at this point.”

The neighbor couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday.

Said Sheppeard about the videotape: “It’s an important part of our investigation, but it’s not the only information and evidence that we obtained over a two-day investigation. And we’re continuing to gather information.”

No restraining order was issued in the case, and the boy’s mother hasn’t returned phone calls from sheriff’s investigators, Sheppeard said.

“Mr. Sanchez’s attorney … advised us that she is under advisement not to speak with us,” Sheppeard told CNN.

Sanchez is married to the boy’s mother, Sheppeard said. Authorities are investigating whether other children live in the family home.

Sanchez’s wife, the stepson and a child born to Sanchez and his wife were in Alabama on Saturday on a long-planned summer vacation and couldn’t be reached for comment, Childers said.

In the wake of the incident and arrest, Sanchez decided not to join his family on the vacation, the attorney said.

“He has not had direct contact with his stepson,” Childers said Saturday. “My conversation with Mr. Sanchez has been focused on the legal aspects and cooperating with the investigation. The political concerns for this are secondary. We’re still waiting to find out what the district attorney is going to do.”