ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Russian officials are closely watching a case involving an Anchorage mother of six who was charged with child abuse after a video that aired on "Dr. Phil" showed her punishing her adopted Russian son by squirting hot sauce into his mouth and forcing him into a cold shower.
The case has sparked a public uproar in Russia at a time that nation is nearing completion of a bilateral treaty with the U.S. on adoptions. Russia called for the agreement following the deaths of Russian children who were abused or neglected by their adoptive American parents in recent years.
Russian officials say they have not ruled out pushing for the return of the 7-year-old boy to his native country should his adoptive mother, Jessica Beagley, be found guilty.
"This video caused a huge wave of outrage in Russia," said Andrey Bondarev of the Russian Consulate in Seattle. "We're going to pay attention because this behavior is absolutely unacceptable."
Beagley's attorney, meanwhile, maintains she is a caring mother who submitted the video to the show because she genuinely wanted help.
The boy and his fraternal twin brother remain in the home with Beagley, her husband and their four biological children. Bondarev, who twice visited the family, said he saw no reason to have the boys removed at this point, and neither did authorities. He said Beagley vowed to never exert that kind of discipline again.
Authorities began investigating Beagley, 36, after the video aired in November in a segment on the CBS show called "Mommy Confessions." The city charged Beagley with one misdemeanor count of child abuse last month.
She has pleaded not guilty.
The video, shot by Beagley's 10-year-old daughter, included sounds of the boy screaming behind the shower curtain and Beagley yelling about the consequences of misbehavior. It brought many in the show's audience to tears.
On the air, host Phil McGraw called Beagley's actions abusive and over the top.
Beagley is married to an Anchorage police officer who was aware of the punishment, Bondarev said. The husband, Gary Beagley, also was investigated, according to municipal prosecutor Cynthia Franklin. She declined to elaborate, saying only that he has not been charged.
On the show, Jessica Beagley said the boy acts up and lies. She said other disciplinary actions such as time-outs, spankings and soap in the mouth have had no effect on his misbehavior.
"I would definitely say that (the boy) is the biggest stress in my life," she said.
Bill Ingaldson, Beagley's attorney, declined to make his client available for an interview. He said she was on the show to seek help about the boy, who was adopted with his brother when they were 5 years old. She saw a "Dr. Phil" episode inviting frustrated parents to the show, according to her lawyer, so she wrote to producers but didn't hear back until 18 months later.
She originally sent a video showing her talking to her children about cold showers as a consequence of misbehavior, but producers wanted to see the actual discipline, Ingaldson said.
The subsequent video was made after legitimate misbehavior, and Beagley's sole motivation was to find solutions, he said.
"She's being portrayed as this evil person, which isn't at all the case," he said. "She's a really caring mom."
Show spokeswoman Stacey Luchs said producers routinely accept home videos or ask participants to tape "naturally occurring behaviors and interactions, in order to gain insight" when dealing with family dynamics.
"We were shocked by what we saw, and called for the immediate halting of this behavior and also referred, at the show's expense, both mother and child for evaluation and treatment with appropriate professionals," she told The Associated Press in an e-mail.
Yevgeniy Khorishko, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., said his office is following the case, which has prompted many reactions in his country.
Russia and U.S. officials are concluding work on a new, binding agreement to cover adoptions between the two countries. Russia demanded such an agreement after a Tennessee adoptive mother put her 7-year-old boy on a plane back to Moscow last year, unaccompanied by an adult.
There also have been instances of severe mistreatment by American parents, Khorishko said.
"There were several cases in recent years with adopted Russian children, including the deaths, beatings and cruel attitude of the parents toward these children," he said. "We actually questioned many times our American counterparts on these issues, and we both understood that we actually need an agreement."
An estimated 17 adopted Russian children have died in instances of domestic violence in American families since 1992, according to Pavel Astakhov, Russia's government-appointed children's rights ombudsman. His office also is monitoring the Beagley case.
"Theoretically, we don't rule out that we could insist on the return of the boy to Russia. But at this point we're not going to," Astakhov said. He suggested that could happen if the family is shown to be unfit to raise him, but he added it's too early to draw that conclusion