Trial begins for Round Lake Park officer accused of paddling 5-year-old girl
The case against a veteran Round Lake Park police officer accused of paddling and injuring his girlfriend's daughter comes down to the word of a then 5-year-old girl, lawyers said during opening arguments Tuesday.
Waymon G. Vela, 56, of the 21600 block of West Grass Lake Road near Antioch, is charged with two counts of misdemeanor domestic battery. Early reports spelled his name as Wayman Vela.
Based on what the girl said to officials, Assistant State's Attorney Ruth Lofthouse told the jury that Vela struck the child six times with a paddle because she wouldn't stop talking in her room one night in April 2019.
Lofthouse showed the jury a photo taken of welts and bruises on the girl's lower back.
"Instead of talking to her sternly, taking a toy away or even spanking her with his hand, he instead took a wooden paddle to a defenseless 5-year-old girl," Lofthouse said.
Vela's defense attorney Eric Rinehart told the jury during opening statements that the bruises were caused by the girl's mother, not Vela.
Rinehart cautioned the jury to question whether the testimony they would hear from prosecution witnesses was being offered to help get to the truth or whether it was designed to "tug on heartstrings."
Vela, a 19-year veteran of the Round Lake Park Police Department, was placed on unpaid administrative leave after his arrest.
Lofthouse called two witnesses Tuesday, a school speech pathologist who first saw the bruises and the Department of Children and Family Services official who interviewed the girl.
Speech pathologist Kaley Fiser testified that she saw part of the bruises when the girl leaned over during a lesson. Fiser said when she asked the 5-year-old what happened, the girl said that her daddy had hit her because she wouldn't stop talking.
Fiser said the girl said more, including something about her mom, but was unclear.
Fiser reported what she'd heard to school administrators and social workers, who then reported it to DCFS.
Rebecca Garduno, a child protection specialist for DCFS, testified that the girl told her that Vela had spanked her with a paddle six times.
On cross examination, Rinehart asked Fiser why she didn't get more information about what the girl was saying about her mom's role. Fiser said at that point she had heard enough to report what she'd learned and it was not her responsibility to get the full story.
Rinehart asked Garduno why she did not ask the girl when the paddling happened.
"Don't you think it is important with a 5-year-old to clarify what date or time it happened?" Rinehart asked.
Garduno agreed it was important.
The trial will resume today.