Home » » Parents arrested after dad accused of 'waterboarding' daughter in Delaware

Parents arrested after dad accused of 'waterboarding' daughter in Delaware

A Georgetown pediatrician and his wife are facing felony charges after their 11-year-old daughter told police her father had repeatedly subjected her to “waterboarding” while her mother stood by.

Dr. Melvin Morse, 58, and Pauline Morse, 40, are facing abuse charges stemming from alleged incidents against their two daughters, ages 5 and 11.
Melvin L. Morse and Pauline L. Morse.

Dr. Melvin L. Morse, 58, and his 40-year-old wife Pauline, of the 20000 block of Lewes-Georgetown Highway, were each charged with four felony counts of first-degree reckless endangering, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and felony conspiracy, said state police spokesman Master Cpl. Gary Fournier.

Their children, girls ages 5 and 11, are in the care of the state Division of Family Services, state police said.

The investigation started July 12 when state troopers received a 911 call from a neighbor about a domestic dispute at the couple’s home.

The call came after the Morses’ daughter went to the neighbor after Melvin Morse reportedly grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her across a gravel driveway, Fournier said. Melvin Morse then took her inside their home and spanked her, he said.

Following the investigation, Melvin Morse — who is co-author of a book about the near-death experiences of children and was employed at a private pediatric practice in Milton — was charged July 16 with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and third-degree assault.

On Monday, the 11-year-old was interviewed by detectives and social workers. According to court documents, she told them that between May 2009 and May 2011 her father had disciplined her by what he called “waterboarding” — holding the daugther’s face under running water, causing the water to fill her nostrils and over her face.

She told police it had happened at least four times — using the kitchen sink, bathroom sink and bathtub faucet, according to court records.

The daughter told police she “could never understand what she did to be punished” and felt scared, court documents reported. Once, she said, her father told her he “was going to wrap her in a blanket and do it so that she could not move.” In another instance, she said Melvin Morse told her that “she could go five minutes without brain damage.”

“Melvin would sometimes look away while he did it and (redacted) would become afraid that he would lose track of time and she would die,” police wrote in court documents.

Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, said the process described in the court documents was the same technique decried as torture when CIA operatives and proxies used it during the global war on terrorism.

“That’s essentially what it is,” Korb said. “There, of course, you want people then to confess because you pull them up then you put them back down if they don’t do that.”

Korb said the practice can kill a person if too much water gets in his or her lungs. “But the purpose of it is you will do anything to stop it because it’s so horrible,” he said about the sensation.

It is entirely inappropriate to use on a child, he said.

“Oh yeah, for an 11-year-old that would terrify them because you can’t breathe, you don’t understand what’s going on, you don’t know what comes next,” Korb said. “Psychologically, it could have lasting damage on this poor kid.”

After her father did these things, the girl said she would “go outside and cry,” prompting Melvin Morse to come outside and then “hold her nose and mouth with his hand,” police said in court records.

“He would tell her she was lucky he did not use duct tape,” police said in the documents. “He would not let go until she lost feeling and collapsed to the ground.”

The girl’s younger sister was also interviewed and told social workers she saw this happen to her sister, but that “it has never been done to her because she is too young for it.”

The state Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday filed a motion for the emergency suspension of Morse’s medical license.

“The physician or his attorney have 24 hours to respond, and their response, along with the motion, will go to Delaware’s secretary of state and the president of the Medical Licensure and Discipline Board for review,” said Christopher Portante, spokesman for the state Division of Professional Regulation, adding that the case is being expedited.

According to the DFS, child abuse is defined as unjustified force, including actions that interfere with breathing, or “any other act that is likely to cause or does cause physical injury, disfigurement, mental distress, unnecessary degradation or substantial risk of serious physical injury or death.”

Denise Enger, coordinator of parent education services at Child Inc., a Wilmington-based group that counsels and supports abused children, said anything that humiliates or harms a child emotionally or physically is not appropriate.

Ideally, Enger said, parents should discipline, not punish children. Punishment is an external behavior, such as a spanking, aimed at stopping the behavior, she said, but it does not teach. Discipline is a guiding behavior, aimed at helping a child learn right from wrong.

Enger did not want to comment on the Morse case. But when asked if the actions described were an appropriate punishment, she said they were not.

“I cannot imagine an circumstance where they would be appropriate,” she said. “Child Inc. advocates a number of more effective parenting tools that are less harmful to children.”

Melvin Morse is being held in the Sussex Correctional Institution after failing to post a $14,500 secured bail. He was ordered to have no contact with either his wife or children.

Pauline Morse was released on a $14,500 unsecured bail and ordered to have no contact with either her husband or children. She answered the door Wednesday at the family’s home, located between Lewes and Georgetown, but declined to comment.

Melvin Morse had been working one day a week for the past 2½ years at the pediatrics practice of Dr. Lowell Scott in Milton, according Jeff Austin, a Wilmington attorney representing Scott. However, he said Morse had not been employed at the practice since May, when he asked to take the summer off to spend more time with his mother.

“Dr. Scott has no first-hand knowledge of the allegation against Dr. Morse,” Austin said, declining to comment further.

Pauline Morse’s father, Gerald DeYoung, of Sun City, Ariz., said he was pleased to hear of the arrests. “I’m just plain angry about it,” he said. “I want to make sure my granddaughters are OK.”

DeYoung said Pauline Morse has five children, three of whom are grown. The 11-year-old, he said, is Melvin Morse’s stepdaughter. DeYoung said he’s been estranged from his daughter and has never met the two youngest children.

Pauline and Melvin Morse moved to Delaware from Seattle in 2006. He is the author of “Closer to the Light” and “Transformed by the Light” that explore near-death experiences of children. He also authored “Parting Visions” that documents spiritual visions associated with death and dying.

According to a biography posted online, he has appeared in a number of television and radio shows, including “20/20” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to talk about his research.
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