The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Defendant takes stand in Gogebic child abuse case


August 17, 2018

Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

MATTHEW LAPLANT, right, listens to an attorney in Gogebic County Circuit Court Thursday during his trial on child abuse charges, while Judge Michael Pope presides.


Bessemer - Matthew James LaPlant, 37, of Bessemer, took the stand Thursday to defend himself during his child abuse trial in Gogebic County Circuit Court.

LaPlant is charged with one count of first-degree child abuse, two counts of second-degree child abuse and one count of unlawful imprisonment. All four counts are felonies, with first-degree child abuse carrying a potential maximum sentence of up to life in prison.

The prosecution has alleged LaPlant physically abused his ex-girlfriend's then 7-year-old son while they were living together, as well as locking him in a dog kennel, calling him names and making him put soiled underwear in his mouth as punishment.

LaPlant denied abusing the child, testifying any abuse the child suffered was at the hands of his mother.

"No, I never hit (the alleged victim)," LaPlant said. He did say he may have yelled at the kid from time to time. He also denied ever hitting or threatening the boy's mother.

Later in his testimony, LaPlant also denied making him put the soiled underwear in his mouth - calling such an act, "totally wrong."

LaPlant admitted to owning a dog kennel, but said he owned two dogs - a pitbull and a St. Bernard-mix. He later testified he did use a screwdriver to lock the kennel, but said that was to keep the dogs inside, rather than the child. He also testified he only recognized one of the two screwdrivers admitted into evidence during the trial, saying he didn't recognize a yellow-handled screwdriver the child testified was used to lock him inside the kennel.

Asked to describe his interactions with the child, LaPlant said they played with cards and Legos, as well as occasionally went fishing.

LaPlant also rejected previous testimony the child didn't like being around LaPlant. "I thought he acted fine with me. He never acted like he was scared of me or frightened of me," LaPlant said.

Prior to moving from Park Falls, Wis., to South Barber Street in Bessemer's Yale Location in December 2016, LaPlant said the alleged victim's mother yelled at the boy and he saw her hit the child once.

"She started treating him worse (after moving to Bessemer)," LaPlant testified. "More yelling, more grounding, more of the spankings."

He said she also was nicer to the boy while two of LaPlant's family friends were living with them, "Until she got used to (them), or got warmed up to them."

Once this happened, LaPlant said the mother began yelling at the child more and spanked him in front of them.

LaPlant said the mother made the child stand in the porch with minimal clothing in winter, another method of discipline.

"When she put him out there, he was out there probably for approximately ... 10 minutes. I was the one who brought him back into the house," he said, "because it was cold out there."

He also said she called the child a variety of names.

LaPlant said he didn't believe in corporal punishment for children, later testifying he brought up his concerns about the way she was raising the child with the mother.

"After I talked to her, (the behavior) did change for a little while. But it was like she got comfortable and it went right back to normal," LaPlant said.

While he admitted to telling the child to go into a dog kennel for one or two hours once, he said he did it because it was a method of discipline the mother previously used.

"I knew it was wrong and I should have never have done it," LaPlant admitted.

He said he was aware of the child being in the kennel roughly 12 times - including once for up to eight or nine hours - but was unaware of him sleeping in the kennel.

Instead, LaPlant said the child slept in a cushioned recliner until they were able to set his bed up.

He said this was the first time he had a child living with him full-time and he usually deferred to the child's mother regarding discipline.

When cross-examined by Gogebic County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Tracie Wittla, LaPlant said he didn't clarify the child's sleeping situation when interviewed by Gogebic County Sheriff's Department deputy Dan McRae because he didn't know he should bring it up.

LaPlant also talked about March 8, 2018 - the day the relationship with the child's mother ended and the abuse allegations first surfaced.

While procedural rules regarding hearsay prevented LaPlant from testifying to what the mother said to him prior to leaving, he said she and the child left in the taxi without incident.

He testified he then went to visit family in Park Falls without cleaning the house up much.

"There was nothing to clean up," he said.

Regarding a pair of soiled underwear deputies found lying on top of the dog kennel while executing a search warrant, LaPlant said he wasn't aware they were dirty and testified a laundry hamper of dirty laundry sat next to the kennel.

Prior to LaPlant's testimony, several other witnesses appeared on his behalf.

Much like the those testifying the day before, people who took the stand Thursday who were LaPlant's relatives and family friends said he was often entrusted with their children or babysat them as kids. Several said the alleged victim didn't appear scared to be around LaPlant.

"Matt loves kids," his sister-in-law, Katie LaPlant, said. "He babysat our son, Chase, since he was born. And Chase loves his uncle Matt; they did lots of things together."

Several also testified to the relationship between the alleged victim and his mother, either when the pair were visiting LaPlant's family in Park Falls or the witnesses were living with LaPlant, the mother and child.

John Ellias compared the relationship to the "ugly stepdaughter" in "Cinderella."

"He was her little go-to about getting work done," Ellias said. "About like dishes, everything like that - cleaning the house - she'd have him do it."

Ellias said she also frequently called the child names.

Dustin Sersch, who had a five-year relationship with the mother prior to her dating LaPlant, testified he also saw her hit the boy when he didn't listen or do something fast enough.

"She'd go from talking to (him) straight to screaming, sometimes it was hitting him with the belt," Sersch testified.

The jury is expected to hear closing arguments from both sides today before beginning its deliberations.


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