A mother on trial for allegedly assaulting her 15-month-old daughter during a flight from Alaska to Hawaii didn’t do anything that went beyond “proper parental discipline,” her federal public defender told jurors Wednesday.
To passengers and flight attendants on that May 3 flight, Samantha Leialoha Watanabe was unnecessarily rough to a generally well-behaved toddler, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Wallenstein told the jury in federal court in Honolulu.
The trial is for the girl, whose name is Clementine, he said, “a 15-month-old child who was pushed in the face with an open hand with enough force to cause her head to jerk all the back to its full range of motion.”
Clementine was also cursed at, smacked in the head, hit in the face with a stuffed doll and had tufts of hair yanked out, he said.
“All by this woman, Samantha Watanabe,” he said. “The defendant, her own mother.”
The allegations are fabricated by judgmental passengers who didn’t like how Watanabe looked and dressed her child, said Alexander Silvert, Watanabe’s defense attorney.
Clementine was wearing a Playboy bunny pendant — considered a symbol of pornography to a passenger but simply a bunny to a child, Silvert said.
“They don’t like the way she disciplined her child,” he said, adding that at times during the long flight, Clementine couldn’t be controlled.
Watanabe cried during parts of Silvert’s opening statement.
Jurors will see evidence Clementine didn’t have any bruises or marks on her body and that there was no bleeding, redness or other signs of hair that was pulled out, Silvert said.
Alaska State Trooper Brian Miller, who was headed to a Kauai vacation with about a dozen family members, testified that Watanabe was rough with her daughter. “She was telling her to shut the F up and … what’s your problem and so on,” he said.
Miller said Watanabe yanked a tuft of Clementine’s hair and blew it to the ground. He was asked why, as a law enforcement officer, he didn’t pick up any of the hair.
“At that point I wasn’t sure what I was seeing … I wasn’t really thinking along those lines about it being a criminal investigation at that point,” he said.