‘It Got Out of Hand,’ Ecclesia Defendant Says on Tape
The leader of the Watts-based Ecclesia Athletic Assn. instructed his followers to withhold food from his daughter as a means of discipline and they later beat the girl with a garden hose and a barber’s strop when she stole something to eat, according to statements made by two group members charged in the child’s death.
“I had a problem with her. It got out of hand,” defendant Willie Chambers told sheriff’s deputies in a tape-recorded conversation played during a pretrial hearing in Oregon. “I got out of control. I went further than I should.”
Another defendant, Frederick Doolittle, said on tape that 8-year-old Dayna Broussard was struck 50 times the day before she died as punishment for stealing food. On the day of her death, Doolittle said, Dayna was hit 250 times with a garden hose, plastic pipe and leather barber’s strop. Water was periodically splashed in her face while she was being beaten, he said.
The tapes were played this week in Clackamas County Circuit Court, where Judge John Lowe is to rule on their admissibility as evidence in the upcoming manslaughter trial of Chambers, Doolittle and two other Ecclesia members.
Defense lawyers contend the recordings--the first public disclosures about events leading up to the child’s death--should be barred because their clients were not properly advised of their rights and may not have made the statements voluntarily.
“It is our position that every tape that’s been played so far is not admissible,” said defense lawyer Ron Gray, whose client, Constance Jackson, also allowed authorities to interview her on tape. That recording is scheduled to be played when the hearing resumes Monday.
“In none of those statements,” Gray added, “do any of those people acknowledge that their conduct caused death.”
Dayna’s death in a rural Oregon farmhouse Oct. 14 touched off a sweeping child abuse investigation into the Ecclesia Athletic Assn., which Dayna’s father, Eldridge Broussard Jr., founded as a way to help inner-city children out of the ghetto through discipline and athletics. Fifty-three Ecclesia children who were housed in the farmhouse with Dayna are now in protective custody in Oregon.
Broussard in the past has refused to discuss the case with The Times.
So far, only two Ecclesia members have been charged in the child abuse probe: Jackson, who faces nine counts each of second-degree assault and first-degree criminal mistreatment in Oregon; and Broussard’s younger brother, Alvin, who faces misdemeanor charges of child endangering and illegal corporal punishment in Los Angeles.
The four manslaughter defendants--Chambers, Doolittle, Jackson and Brian Brinson--are free on their own recognizance in Oregon. Their trial was scheduled to start Monday, but Lowe granted a motion by the defense to delay the case until Feb. 6.
Lowe also granted defense lawyers the right to interview the 53 Ecclesia children--some of whom, authorities say, witnessed the lashing that led to Dayna’s death and received similar “systematic beatings” themselves.
In addition, the judge ordered the Oregon medical examiner, who conducted the autopsy on Dayna, to release tissue samples to an independent pathologist hired by the defense. The Oregon medical examiner ruled that Dayna died of blunt-force head injuries.
In his taped interview, Chambers said Broussard had given him the authority to discipline Dayna. He told sheriff’s deputies the girl had become disrespectful and that he began beating her the night she died after attempts at non-physical discipline failed. He stopped the beating after the child became exhausted, he said, and left her in a sleeping bag about 10 p.m.
Chambers said Dayna was moaning softly when he left her, but that she was unresponsive when he checked her later. He said he thought Dayna had gone into shock, and that he and Brinson then carried the 60-pound girl to a nearby fire station in Clackamas County, where she was pronounced dead.