Prosecutor asks for more evidence in Sebring toddler snake bite case

HCSO

HIGHLANDS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Was it a harmless teachable moment or child abuse?

That’s the question the State Attorney’s Office has to figure out after a video of a Sebring mother and her one-year-old daughter went viral.

In the video, recorded by the mother, Chartelle St. Laurent, the child is seen being bitten by a small, non-venomous rat snake. The toddler begins to cry and the mother starts laughing.

In a newly obtained document, the State Attorney’s Office is asking investigators for more evidence to prove child abuse beyond a reasonable doubt.

“To prove the crime of child abuse beyond a reasonable doubt, the State must prove that the defendant intentionally inflicted physical or mental injury upon a child,” ASA Christine Pletcher wrote in the letter.

Pletcher went on to request, “The reports submitted seem to indicate there was no injury to the child or marks on the hand as a result of the strike by the non-venomous snake. If I am mistaken in my reading of the reports, please forward proof of injury to the child.”

Pletcher also requested any psychological evaluations of the child to show mental injury.

According to the child’s grandmother, her daughter meant no harm.

“It’s not like she knew it wasn’t going to strike, but if it did it wasn’t going to hurt her. You know what I’m saying,” said Brenda St. Laurent from her home’s front porch.

“The baby was startled by the jump. Not the bite. The bite did nothing. It didn’t break the skin.”

Brenda St. Laurent tells News Channel 8 she stands by her daughter’s actions. Brenda said the family lives in a rural area and considers the incident a learning moment—a simple way to teach the baby not to touch snakes.

Detectives with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into the video and pointed to child abuse in an affidavit stating that “it is due to the evidence collected during this investigation, which shows Chartelle St. Laurent purposely exposing her one-year-old child to the snake, sufficient probable cause can be shown (that there has been a violation) of Florida Statute 827.03.1b Child Abuse.”

“You would want to pick moments to teach your child, maybe when the child is a little older and can actually grasp what you’re trying to teach,” said Dressel. “A one-year-old is not going to remember that. Maybe wait until the child is a little older and teach the child how to recognize dangerous snakes.”

Dressel agrees with the critics that posting the video wasn’t the wisest idea.

“Nothing you post online is going to be private,” said Dressel. “If you post something online, you’re putting it out there for the whole world, no matter what you think.”

“I think people just enjoy misery…making other people miserable,” said Brenda, regarding the amount of social media attention the video received. “They jump on the wagon even though they don’t know the whole story.”

News Channel 8 will keep following developments and update when a decision has been made.

Follow Melissa Marino on Facebook

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