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Child abuse charges dropped against former Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair

Addressing the media Thursday in Tampa, former Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair thanked the State Attorney’s Office.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Addressing the media Thursday in Tampa, former Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair thanked the State Attorney’s Office.

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County State Attorney won't prosecute Brian Blair on child abuse charges, officials said Thursday.

The former Hillsborough commissioner was arrested on Father's Day after a confrontation with his two sons that landed him in jail overnight.

He maintained his innocence at a news conference Thursday, saying he had been confident the truth would emerge.

"I'd like to thank the State Attorney's Office for their diligence in this case, for their wisdom, for their knowledge, for their understanding, for the way that they analyzed the entire situation before they made a decision," he said.

With the charges dropped, Blair made plans to join his family on vacation and see his children for the first time since his June 21 arrest. He said he'd already asked his wife, Toni, to make sure his boys know that "Dad still loves them and Dad has no hard feelings."

In a memorandum, Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters characterized the scuffle between Blair, 52, and his 17-year-old son, Brett, as "discipline," given the combative history between them.

Brett had demonstrated poor judgment in the last few months and "his recent behavior, current relationships and aggression issues caused his grades to drop dramatically," the memo said. He had been suspended for aggressive behavior, and had run away from home four times.

Brian Blair's mother, Georgia Blair, told authorities that he had been very moody lately and "riding Brett very hard."

Just hours before the Father's Day confrontation, she said, Brian Blair called Brett names in front of Brett's friends.

Brian Blair told his son, "Wait until you turn 18 and I can beat your a--," according to Georgia Blair's statement to deputies.

Brett replied, "I'm 17 so why don't you just beat my a-- now," Georgia Blair said, according to the sheriff's report.

Brett said he wouldn't tolerate his father talking to him in certain ways, particularly in front of his friends, Peters wrote. Brett said he didn't want to be disrespected.

In the predawn hours of Father's Day, the Blair boys returned home with friends about 4 a.m. They said they had been playing basketball.

In a written statement Thursday, Brian Blair said he did not "initiate any physical contact" with his sons. "I did as any loving, caring parent would: I let them know in no uncertain terms how unhappy I was that they were out so late."

His eldest son responded in a way that required him to defend himself, he said, and while trying to restrain him, "I was physically accosted by the other teens."

Twice that morning, Bradley Blair, 14, called 911 and told dispatchers that his parents and his brother were fighting and that his brother had "gone crazy."

When deputies arrived, Brett Blair told them his father grabbed him, punched him in the face and put him in a choke hold, the Sheriff's Office reported. His father had also punched Bradley, Brett Blair told deputies.

Deputies arrested Blair on felony child abuse charges.

But the memo released Thursday portrayed things differently. Brian Blair took more punches than he gave, prosecutors said.

Peters wrote that Brett Blair was more aggressive than his father and hit his father "many more times" than his father hit him. Brian Blair's injuries indicated that his actions had been defensive, she wrote.

The memo listed Brian Blair's injuries: visible blood on the base of his earlobe, which appeared to be a tear; facial swelling; large swelling and bruising to his chest, later treated at Tampa General Hospital as chest wall contusion or cartilage bruising; and redness and abrasions to his back and redness to his forearms.

Brett Blair is 5 feet 9 inches and 185 pounds.

Brian Blair is 6 feet tall and weighs 235 pounds. He was once part of a tag-team wrestling duo known as the Killer Bees.

Prosecutors said that none of the injuries to Brett or Bradley Blair were substantial or excessive. Deputies photographed a bump on Bradley's head, but it was gone the next day and didn't require medical attention, the memo said.

Brett Blair's hands were red. He said that came from punching his father. Bradley Blair's neck was red. He said that happened when his dad tried to stop him by grabbing his shirt.

Blair, at the news conference, said he never punched his children, though he admits placing Brett in an arm bar to try to restrain him.

"I didn't hit my children, even though it says that," Blair said. "I did not hit my child."

Lawyers familiar with police procedure said they understand why deputies arrested Brian Blair.

Criminal defense attorney Rochelle Reback said officers have some discretion in dealing with domestic altercations. Typically, she said, whichever side calls police gets treated as the victim, at least initially.

"It's true of most domestic altercations and it's true of bar fights," Reback said. "No matter who the aggressor really is."

Years ago, defense attorney Mike Benito said, officers seemed more willing to let people calm down and sort things out on their own without hauling someone to jail. But now they worry about how it will look if the violence escalates after they leave and someone gets hurt — or worse.

"That's what happened in this case. They took somebody into custody to cool off the situation," Benito said. Then, "they let the State Attorney's Office and the court system sort of clear it up later."

Times staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

FAST FACTS

Abuse guidelines

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office cited rulings in previous Florida cases that guided its decision not to prosecute former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair on child abuse charges.

Among them:

• Parents have a right to discipline a child in a reasonable manner. A parent can be charged if the punishment is excessive.

• Parents can assert an affirmative defense that they administered reasonable or nonexcessive corporal punishment. When looking at whether the act is reasonable, harm to the child is reviewed. Several factors contribute to this analysis: the age of the child, any prior injuries to the child, the location on the body of the injuries to the child, the number of injuries and the type of trauma inflicted.

• Spankings that result in "significant bruises or welts" don't rise to the level of felony child abuse, which requires "more serious beatings.'' In reviewing injuries, it is important to determine whether the actions are excessive in light of the circumstances.

• An act that merely causes fear and anxiety, but no physical injury or mental injury, is not criminal.

Child abuse charges dropped against former Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair 07/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 3, 2009 7:25am]
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