New York Judge Orders Mother To Beat Son – 1938
Are you one of the people who think that today’s juvenile delinquents are coddled and the justice system is too soft on petty crime? Maybe we should bring back “the good old days,” when corporal punishment and tough jail sentences were the norm for youthful offenders?
Then you might be surprised to learn that even during hard times 80 years ago, many people found the idea of beating children to be abhorrent, especially when ordered by a court of law.
If the goal of justice is to have the punishment equal the crime, then the sentence meted out by a New York magistrate did not go over very well with the public.
The Leather of the Law
New York, NY — In accordance with the orders of Magistrate Overton Harris, Mrs. Mary Bradley applies the strap to her son, Tommy who was one of eight Textile High School boys believed to have pulled the whistle cord on a New York subway train. Thomas and another boy were the only ones of the eight who didn’t run from the train. When young Bradley appeared with his mother in court, Magistrate Overton Harris ordered Mrs. Bradley to “prove to me on Thursday night that you gave your son a good thrashing or I’ll send him to jail.” Although Mrs. Bradley believed her son’s protestations of his innocence she is shown obeying to the letter of the law. credit line Acme – 5/25/1938
Judge Harris had also said to Mrs. Bradley, “Get a paddle, bore some holes in it, and make welts on the boy. Do you think you can do it?”
Despite this photographic evidence above, Mrs. Bradley, a widow living at 100 W. 96th Street, did not thrash her 16-year-old son.
Mrs. Bradley did not possess the sadistic instrument the judge had prescribed. Instead, Mrs. Bradley used a strap to carry out the judge’s orders, using only three mild blows. Believing her son’s innocence, Mrs. Bradley was prepared to testify she did indeed thrash Tommy, but without raising welts and hoped the judge would accept her strap remedy.
Magistrate Harris accepted the substitution of the strap for the paddling, but the news corps, the New York County Lawyers Association and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York were outraged by the bizarre sentence. The case remained open.
On June 3, the Bar Association considered a complaint filed by the Chief Magistrate Joseph Gould Schurman, who said “The occurrence (of thrashing) brought the administration of justice in the Magistrates’ Courts into ridicule and contempt.”
Tommy Bradley and the other youth Thomas Dunne, later withdrew their guilty pleas of disorderly conduct for “participating in a disturbance” aboard an IRT train on May 23, 1938.
Those charges were dropped on June 24 and the two boys were arraigned on interfering with an officer in the discharge of his duty. The two boys allegedly kicked and punched Emil Nomburg, a plainclothes IRT special officer on the train. Nomburg claimed the boys attack on him allowed a man to escape whom Nomburg was about to arrest for tampering with IRT property.
The trial was moved to the Court of Special Sessions where Overton Harris would no longer have jurisdiction of the case. On September 20, 1938 both Bradley and Dunne were found guilty as charged and sentenced to one year’s probation.
A joint inquiry between the Bar Association and the Lawyers Association submitted to Mayor La Guardia a year later yielded no discipline against Magistrate Harris. When Magistrate Harris’s term expired July 27, 1939 he was not reappointed by the mayor.
In 1942 at the age of 54, Harris volunteered for combat duty and was accepted by the Navy, serving in the South Pacific during World War II. Lieutenant Commander Harris had previously won the Navy Cross in World War I. Overton Harris died at age 95 in Washington DC on April 25, 1983.