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Slapping suspect draws international scorn

STONE MOUNTAIN - They are the alleged slaps heard 'round the world.

A Stone Mountain man's alleged disciplinary tirade on a fussy toddler in the frozen foods section of a Wal-Mart this week has incensed parents from New Jersey to New Zealand.

The charges, first reported in the Post, allege that Roger Stephens, 61, slapped 2-year-old Paige Mathews at least four times in the face because she wouldn't stop crying in a store on Rockbridge Road.

Stephens had warned the child's mother, "If you don't shut that baby up, I'll shut her up for you," and after the slapping declared: "See, I told you I would shut her up," according to a police report.

Stephens was cornered by another shopper and arrested. A judge denied his release Wednesday. He remains at the Gwinnett County Jail on felony charges of child cruelty, awaiting a bond hearing Tuesday.

Stephens' court-appointed attorney, Kelly Kautz, did not return calls for comment Thursday.

Paige's mother, Sonya Mathews, a Grayson homemaker, said Stephens claimed he "just couldn't shop because the baby was crying all over the store." The child's injuries were not serious, Mathews told the Post earlier this week.

The allegations have prompted a firestorm of angry reader comments and blog postings around the world.

Newspapers as far as New Zealand and Malaysia posted versions of the national wire report. Even Internet snoops The Smoking Gun scribed a version of the story.

"If that were my baby," one reader vented to The Philadelphia Inquirer, "this article would be about how an old man was killed after slapping a child."

A commentator on the Malaysia Sun's Web site seemed more sympathetic to Stephens' concerns.

"People who refuse to discipline their children run the risk of having people do the disciplining for them," the post reads. "He really should have slapped the parent."

The accusations led family violence expert Brian K. Payne, chair of Georgia State University's department of criminal justice, to pen a column titled: "Stop Crying or I Will Give You Something to Cry About."

Payne argues that threatening children with violence - let alone employing it - is counterproductive behavior.

"I always ask my students in my family violence classes, 'If hitting is such a great teaching tool, why don't we hit people at other stages of their life course?'" Payne wrote.

Research shows that verbal warnings precede physical abuse as a means to justify the violence, Payne maintains.

"The unrealistic warning comes first," he wrote. "Then the violence."