July 11, 2012— -- The lawyer for a former California official accused of whipping his stepson for failing to catch a ball during a game of catch said the father was simply disciplining the boy and did nothing wrong.
In a now infamous video clip that went viral online, Anthony Sanchez, who was elected to the board of a California water agency, is seen playing catch with his stepson. In a video recorded and posted online by a neighbor, Sanchez appears to approach the boy and whips him with a belt.
In his first court appearance on Tuesday, Sanchez, 34, pleaded not guilty to felony child abuse. He was released on bail.
His lawyer says the video at the center of the case has been misinterpreted, and that the Sanchez did not beat the 10-year old boy because he dropped the ball.
"This was discipline as a result of behavior during a game of catch, and that's all it was," Attorney Ryan Childers said.
Childers says that no felony crime was committed.
"It's not illegal to spank a child, and it's not illegal to do it with something other than your hand," he said.
That "something other" than a hand is believed to be a belt which Sanchez allegedly used to repeatedly whack the child as a furious neighbor watched and recorded the whole thing from his window.
Oscar Lopez, the neighbor who caught the alleged beating on tape, can be heard in the video protesting what he sees from his window.
"That's enough. I'm having a problem with you for beating the (expletive) out of him because he won't catch the damn ball," Lopez says in the clip.
Sanchez responds, "Do you know my son?"
Lopez replies: "I don't know your son, but I'm watching you. I'm a (expletive) father, too. Why don't you come over here and teach me?"
Lopez said he heard Sanchez tell the boy he had better learn to throw the football correctly because when he starts playing, "They're all going to laugh at you." Lopez said he did not know his neighbor was the head of a powerful water company.
"When I found out who he was, I was in shock," Lopez said.
After the video went viral, Sanchez stepped down from his elected post as director of the Imperial Irrigation District. He turned himself in to authorities on June 9 and posted a $100,000 bond.
Though Sanchez declined to comment on the case, a woman identifying herself as his aunt says he is a wonderful dad.
"Get the story right," Sanchez's aunt told reporters outside court. "You're judging the video and not the person."