Experts Condemn Georgia Man Who Slapped Crying Child in Wal-Mart

Roger Stephens

Everyone seems to have an unruly child story -- the toddler who wails through dinner at a five-star restaurant, the bored 4-year-old who kicks the back of the plane seat, the kindergartner throwing a tantrum over a box of Popsicles.

Most of those people just suffer in silence, sharing eye-rolls or shooting not-so-subtle glares in the parents' direction. But not Roger Stephens.

The 61-year old Atlanta area man caused a sensation this week when he hauled off and slapped a crying 2-year-old at a Stone Mountain, Ga., Wal-Mart after warning the little girl's mother "If you don't shut that baby up, I will shut her up for you."

Video: Stranger slaps screaming child in Wal-Mart.
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According to a police report filed with the Gwinnett County Police Department, Stephens allegedly slapped the girl four or five times, then told the mother, "See, I told you I would shut her up." He was charged with felony cruelty to children.

Stephens is now being held without bond at the Gwinnett County jail and is expected in court Sept. 8. His actions are a perfect example of how not to handle a similar situation.

"We need to realize that his is way out there at the far end, way beyond normal range," Dr. Redford Williams, a behavioral medicine specialist at Duke University Medical Center, told ABCNews.com. "It's never appropriate to hit somebody. That's just beyond the pale."

Stephens' neighbors told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was somewhat of a loner who didn't interact much with others and had few visitors.

Several bloggers commenting on the incident have said that although they disagree with Stephens' decision to slap the little girl, they've understood where his frustration came from.

Stephens, who, according to the police report, later apologized to the mother, is generally considered to have overreacted. But the sight -- and sound -- of a child carrying on even when he or she is old enough to know better is played out every day in stores, theaters, airports and malls.

Some restaurants have gone so far as to ban children from their dining rooms, a move that sparked the ire of parents and applause from childless diners.

There was also mixed reviews to an incident last summer when an American Eagle flight returned to the airport gate in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., after a toddler, who was autistic, would not stop throwing a tantrum. His mother said at the time that she had been trying to calm her son and that there was no reason to boot them from the plane.

Also last year, single mother Nikki Ramirez was cuffed and arrested after authorities saw an online video of the then-pregnant Florida mom spraying her crying 2-year-old with a car wash hose.

Ramirez, who was charged at the time with felony child abuse and then ordered to take court-appointed parenting classes, told ABC News that her daughter refused to calm down and listen to her.

"I wet her down thinking that would just calm her down," she said. "I just wanted to interrupt her for a second."

Disciplining Someone Else's Child

But disciplining someone else's child borders can provoke a furious response, and as the Stephens case illustrates can border on the criminal.

Williams noted that when people snap like Stephens did -- he called Stephens reaction a "very extreme level" of anger -- they are often shouldering heavy stress from some other burden, such as money or financial woes.

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