Round Lake Park officer not guilty of domestic battery in paddling case
A jury Thursday found a veteran Round Lake Park Police officer accused of spanking a 5-year-old girl with a paddle not guilty of two counts of misdemeanor domestic battery.
Waymon G. Vela, 56, of the 21600 block of West Grass Lake Road near Antioch, was overcome with emotion upon hearing the verdict and held his head in his hands. Vela is a 19-year veteran of the department and was placed on unpaid administrative leave after his arrest in April.
The case involved a girl, now 6, who has since become Vela's stepdaughter. The girl gave conflicting accounts of how she got hurt, telling authorities in April that Vela had hit her six times with a paddle but testifying Wednesday that he did not spank her.
Vela could have faced up to a year in jail if found guilty. Vela's attorney Eric Rinehart would not comment after the verdict was announced.
Assistant State's Attorney Ruth Lofthouse argued that Vela hurt the child because that's what the girl told several adults, including a speech pathologist at her school who first noticed bruises on the girl's back. A video played in court Wednesday showed the girl telling an interviewer that Vela hit her six times with a paddle.
On Wednesday, however, Lofthouse called the girl to the stand and asked her how she got hurt. The girl testified that the welts and bruises on her back were caused by a fall in her basement and that her daddy never spanked her.
Rinehart said in his closing argument to jurors Thursday that the state did not have enough evidence to prove the charge against Vela. He disputed Lofthouse's assertion that the girl denied the spanking on the stand to protect her mom, who married Vela in October of 2019.
"They better have more than conspiracy theories and claims of manipulation with no evidence," Rinehart said.
Lee Filas, spokesman for the Lake County state's attorney's office, said "we respect the jury's decision."