A young mother seen in viral videos seemingly kicking and force-feeding her then nine-month-old baby today said she was simply “playing” with the baby, not kicking her in the face.
And while Latoya Joyann Morris, 22, offered no apologies for her actions, she eventually pleaded guilty to abusing the child.
Video recordings of the actions of the mother-of-three have been trending on social media over the last few days. In one video she is seen using her right foot and hitting the baby in the face at least five times, as a man tells her to “stop that, stop kicking de child”, while in another she is shown force-feeding the child, demanding that she “open you mout, girl”.
When Morris of Block 1, 11G Almond Avenue, Eden Lodge, St Michael first appeared before Magistrate Kristie Cuffy-Sargeant this morning she denied willfully assaulting the toddler on October 22 last year. However, she had a change of heart and pleaded guilty to the charge.
The man heard in the video is Rommel Codrington, the father of Morris’ two-year-old child, and at whose home in The Pine, St Michael the mother was recorded “kicking” the child in the face.
Prosecutor Constable Victoria Taitt said the mother’s action was “rough enough” to be considered a kick and to worry Codrington, who recorded the incident and later reported it to the Child Care Board.
It emerged in court today that the two ended their relationship a month after the incident and it was a message which Morris later posted on Facebook that led her former partner to act.
Taitt said after Morris shared the post which caused Codrington to “feel bad about what was being said about him”, he sent a message to the baby’s grandfather and attached the video, along with several others.
When he did not get the desired response Codrington posted the videos on the same social media site. It went viral and attracted the attention of police.
After Morris was arrested, Taitt said, the young mother admitted to committing the act, but said it was done playfully, which was what she told the court from the docks today.
“I wasn’t kicking her. He was telling me bad things . . . and I ain’t know he was recording . . . I was just putting my foot round she head, but it was not kicking her,” a soft-spoken Morris told the magistrate.
An official of the Ministry of Social Care had earlier suggested that Morris had been trying to improve herself through the ministry’s educational programme.
While expressing surprise at what he had seen on the video, the officer said the young woman, who also had a four-year-old child, had enrolled in a two-year programme, entitled, ‘Strengthening Human and Social Care Development of Barbados’, in December last year and was also currently engaged in a one-year housekeeping course.
“In my time visiting her home, I have never seen her in anyway abusive to the child or any of her children . . . . She has been progressing very, very well. I was quite surprised at the video I had seen. I couldn’t believe it was the same person,” the officer said, adding that Morris would have sought help through the programme for any problems she might have been experiencing, as several social service entities were attached to the initiative, including the Psychiatric Hospital.
“There are also programmes in parenting . . . but from my experience so far I have not seen anything negative,” the officer added.
After hearing the officer, Cuffy-Sargeant offered Morris bail in the sum of $500 and ordered a presentencing report into her life.
However, she made it clear that Morris must understand a mother’s role as children must never be caught in the middle of a feud among adults.
“A nine-month-old baby cannot defend his or herself, a five-year-old child cannot defend his or herself, even a ten-year-old, a 15-year-old, all these persons in that age category are children and those persons rely on us – parents, adults, members of the community – to protect them, not to cause harm of injury to them.
“And certainly when that child belongs to you it’s your responsibly as a mother to protect the child and to provide for the child to the best of your ability,” the magistrate said, adding that if Morris needed further assistance she could engage the services of the police.
The magistrate also commended the child’s stepfather for highlighting the situation.
“Very often fathers are chastised for not taking care of their children, for not fighting for their children. In this case we have to commend the [step]father of the child for doing the right thing . . . for reporting the matter,” Cuffy-Sargeant stated.
Morris returns to the District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court on May 4 to discover her fate.