Slapped Around

updated 07/11/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/11/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

LYNN KIVI WAS LOSING HER PATIENCE. SHE had just put in a 10-hour shift as a cook at a family-style restaurant in Woodstock, Ga., last May 23, only to have her two children—Sarah, 12, and Chuck, 9—start bickering on the way to a Winn-Dixie supermarket. Once inside they kept it up. "Chuck wouldn't leave Sarah alone. When I heard him say something nasty to her, I told him to stop it," recalls Kivi, 35. "He looked at me and said, 'I wasn't even talking to you,' and sneered. So I slapped his face. Then I told him to stand next to the cart, to behave himself. He cried and pouted, and the scene was over."

But Kivi's troubles were just beginning. As she backed out of her parking space 15 minutes later, a police officer stopped her. It turned out that Amy Jones, a Winn-Dixie employee, had reported the incident to 911. When Kivi admitted she had slapped Chuck, she was taken to the county jail in handcuffs and charged with one count of cruelty to children—a felony carrying up to 20 years in prison. "I initially suggested that this case could be better prosecuted as a misdemeanor," says Woodstock police chief Jimmy Mercer. "But I do not wish to second-guess the courts as to this particular charge." Kivi's husband, Dale, 36, a marketing manager for an electronics company, was forced to cash in his 401 (k) retirement account to pay a $22,050 bail bond and hire a lawyer. No trial date has been set.

Kivi insists she did not hit Chuck hard. "T did not abuse my son, nor would I ever," she says. Jones, the main eyewitness, has refused to talk with the press. But Deborah Ivers, 28, who was working nearby, says Chuck let out a cry of terrible anguish. "I'm telling you that a kid doesn't scream like that if he's just gotten a little pop," says Ivers. "I mean, the kid kept crying. He was holding his face, and there were red marks." Not so, responds Lynn. "Chuck's face was red from crying, and he had been rubbing it," she says. "Both of his cheeks were red."

The incident has become a cause célèbre in Woodstock (pop. 4,361). Some Winn-Dixie customers have protested what they see as the store's meddling by leaving shopping carts filled with frozen food at the checkout counter. For his part, Chuck thinks the ruckus is "silly. It was just a little slap. I was being bratty." And for once, Sarah agrees with her brother. "I told the police officers they were so stupid to arrest my mother, because she didn't do anything wrong," Sarah says. "There should be boundaries or the kids will run the parents."

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