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Decision likely soon in Terpko assault case

Child abuse charge against Thurmont commissioner dropped last week

Ingrid Mezo

(7/7) Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott Rolle has dropped the child abuse charge against Thurmont Commissioner Ron Terpko, and is expected to decide before July 13 if the remaining second-degree assault charge will stand.

Terpko was arrested June 14 after hitting his 13-year-old son in the face while the boy was handcuffed, according to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

The boy was one of three who had just been arrested for vandalizing mailboxes when the incident occurred. Police arrested Terpko at the scene, and charged him with child abuse and second-degree assault.

According to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Terpko hit his son with a closed fist. But Terpko’s attorney, Norman Usiak, told The Gazette that Terpko slapped the boy with an open hand. Terpko, who is in his second term as a town commissioner, referred all media questions to Usiak.

‘‘We are aware that there are witnesses who were present that observed what occurred, and that will testify to what they actually saw, and that was a slap, not a closed fist," Usiak said.

‘‘The only thing that this kid got was a lesson out of it," Usiak said. ‘‘There was no lasting effect other than a lesson."

Rolle said the law would not allow a child abuse charge, which is a felony, in this case. ‘‘It’s really a matter of law of that part," he said. ‘‘To charge someone and convict them, there needs to be an intent to harm or maim, or cause serious bodily injury, and those elements were not present in this case."

As for the second-degree assault charge, which is not a felony, Rolle said ‘‘that’s really a judgment call."

‘‘The only thing in dispute is whether it was a closed fist or a hand, and I think it makes a difference as to whether it was an assault or not, because parents have the right to discipline their children," he said. ‘‘What we have to make sure is that it does not cross the line into child abuse, and that is a very fine line."

‘‘I don’t think punching your child is appropriate," Rolle continued. ‘‘Slapping your child who had just knocked over a bunch of mail boxes may be appropriate. Different parents have different opinions on that, but really it is a matter of law. Maryland state law allows slapping. You can spank your child, but if you do it with an object like a stick, and you leave welts, that would be child abuse. Spanking so hard you leave an injury, that would be child abuse."

Terpko’s trial has been set for July 13, and Rolle has to make a decision on the second-degree assault charge before then.

‘‘Obviously, it’s very important to protect our kids," Rolle said. ‘‘Really, it boils down to the case in front of me, and whether that case amounts to child abuse or not. One little difference can make the difference. I don’t know where the line is, but I know it when I see it."

Even if Terpko is convicted of second-degree assault, he could not be removed from office, according to the town charter, because second-degree assault is not a felony.

Thurmont Mayor Martin Burns said last month that the town charter does not indicate what would happen to an elected official who is arrested, charged or convicted of a crime.

‘‘There is nothing in the old charter that would require a forfeiture of office," Burns said. ‘‘There is, however, a section on the new draft charter. It’s just a simple sentence that the mayor or a commissioner shall immediately forfeit his or her office upon conviction of a felony."

Burns said the draft charter was on the agenda for town officials to discuss during the first town meeting in August. Burns added that he expected the revised charter to be on the books in October.

‘‘I’m not getting involved in this," he said of Terpko’s arrest. ‘‘This is not town business, this is personal business, and everyone is innocent until proven guilty. ... That’s what judges get paid for."

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