Phoebe Horton, a 45-year-old Palm Coast resident of Whirlway Drive, a teacher at Sebastian Middle School in St. Augustine, and the mother of an elementary-age son, was arrested on a felony charge of child abuse Monday following a Department of Children and Families investigation that found Horton allegedly whipped the boy eight or 10 times with a belt for peeing himself.
Horton did so while her husband, Sean Borca, held down the boy, and violently enough that the boy bled, according to a Flagler County Sheriff’s report.
The DCF investigator who had interviewed the boy summoned law enforcement. The DCF investigator had received a tip about the alleged beating of the boy, who attends an elementary school in St. Augustine. The investigator interviewed the child on Sunday, who described how he misbehaved and became unruly in church as he kept having to use the bathroom. Once home, he could no longer hold it, and accidentally urinated in his pants.
His mother got upset, took a black belt, and as Borca held him down, the boy told the investigator, his mother whipped him. He told the investigator he could see his mother “bring the belt up above her head and then strike.” After the beating the boy stated “that his buttocks began to bleed a little.” The investigator provided images documenting the boy’s injuries. The injuries, the investigator told a sheriff’s deputy, “appeared to be a series of repeated beatings with [a] belt leaving substantial redness and bruising covering most of the buttocks.”
When the deputy attempted to speak with the boy’s parents separately, they became upset with the deputy’s presence, but nevertheless did speak. Borca said he does not put a hand on the child since he is not his biological parent, leaving the disciplining to Horton.
Borca has prior arrests and criminal charges in four separate incidents. In 2018 he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery subsequent to a confrontation with his then-girlfriend. In 2020 he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery in an alleged confrontation with a different woman. The same year, he was charged with domestic battery in an alleged confrontation involving his 18-year-old son. He was not arrested ion that particular case. But after that battery charge was filed, he was arrested and booked at the Volusia Branch Jail on felony charges of domestic battery by strangulation, tampering with a witness and battery causing bodily harm, following an alleged confrontation involving his then-girlfriend. the The charges were dropped in all four cases. An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that he had faced charges only twice before, rather than four times.
Horton told a deputy that she had altered the child’s ADHD medicine and didn’t act correctly after taking it. He had been acting up. So she whipped him with a belt four times on each side of his rear end, she told a deputy. “She stated when she hits him he doesn’t have any remorse or react and doesn’t feel pain,” the deputy reported. It isn’t clear how the child’s mother know what sort of pain the child suffers. The day she was interviewed and before the investigators’ arrival, she said she had slapped her son on the wrist “and he laughed at her, almost in a mocking manner,” as she recalled to the deputy.
Horton was arrested and booked at the Flagler County jail on a felony charge of child abuse “without great bodily harm.” The Department of Children and Families took custody of the child and transported him to his biological father. Borca, declaring the matter a problem between the mother and father, refused to sign any paperwork either from the Sheriff’s Office or DFC.
Horton at first appearance before a judge was be represented by a public defender, but subsequently was represented by a private attorney. She posted bail on $2,500 bond earlier today and was released. She is under court order to have no contact with her child. The order does not extend to other children. On March 9, she entered a plea of not guilty through her attorney, Matthew Maguire of Flagler Beach, who had also represented Borca previously.
The infliction of pain on children through corporal punishment, including paddling, at school or at home, is legal in Florida, as it is in all states, though it has been outlawed in about 50 nations. The infliction of pain under Florida law must be “reasonable.” Florida law defines child abuse as the “intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child.” The law does not forbid beatings that inflict bruises or welts. It forbids beatings that inflict “significant bruises or welts,” a level of pain the law ranks with permanent or temporary disfigurement, asphyxiation, suffocation, brain or spinal cord damage, bone or skull fractures, and so on. Beating a defenseless child less violently is legal.
Abuse Hotline: Report Abuse Online
The Florida Abuse Hotline accepts reports 24 hours a day and 7 days a week of known or suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment and reports of known or suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Please use the links below to report a child or adult abuse.
If you suspect or know of a child or vulnerable adult in immediate danger, call 911.
Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare is a mandatory reporter. § 39.201(1)(a), Florida Statutes.
To report an allegation in Spanish or Creole, please call 1-800-962-2873, for TTY use 711 or 1-800-955-8771. This toll free number is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with counselors waiting to assist you.