A disturbing viral video, taken seven years ago and posted on YouTube last week by the daughter of a Texas judge, has turned a family’s private pain into a wave of public outcry.
The 7 ½-minute video, uploaded by 23-year-old Hillary Adams, shows Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams viciously whipping his then-16-year-old daughter with a strap.
Late Thursday afternoon, Judge Adams issued a statement through his attorney asserting that his daughter released the tape to retaliate against him for withdrawing his financial support.
“If the public must know, just prior to the YouTube upload, a concerned father shared with his 23-year-old daughter that he was unwilling to continue to work hard and be her primary source of financial support, if she was going to simply ‘drop out’ [from college] and strive to achieve no more in life than to work part time at a video-game store,” said the statement released by Adams’ attorney, William A. Dudley.
“Hillary warned her father if he reduced her financial support, and took away her Mercedes automobile, which her father had provided, he would live to regret it. The post was then uploaded.”
The video depicts Hillary's mother, Hallie, participating in the beating. Both women spoke exclusively with Matt Lauer on TODAY Thursday about the furor the video has caused and the reasons for posting it seven years after it was taken.
Although the five-year statute of limitations for charges of bodily injury to a child most likely means criminal charges will not be filed, the video could potentially result in Judge Adams' removal from the bench. A police investigation into whether the beating was criminal has been opened by the local police at the district attorney’s request.
“I’ve experienced everything from crying about it to almost just laughing,’’ Hillary told TODAY. “I’ve just experienced so many emotions. Sometimes it’s like reliving it, and sometimes it’s like watching it from a completely different point of view. It’s really impossible to put all of that into words.
“I think [my father] has been punished enough just by seeing this go public like this, and I think he just really needs help and rehabilitation,” she said. “I regret that some of my friends and some people close to me have kind of had trouble with this, and of course, I regret that it’s my own father. I’m having very mixed feelings about that, but at the same time people are telling me that I did the right thing, so there have been definitely different emotions.’’
In the statement released by his attorney, Judge Adams questioned the genuineness of his daughter’s pleas that he get help.
“If this entire event was a plea for help and healing, the methodology is certainly unorthodox,” the statement said. “Judge Adams, who among other reasons, still has a minor daughter to consider, chooses to involve the media as little as possible whilst personal family matters are sorted through. The public may ponder what consideration Hillary Adams gave her little sister before subjecting the entire family to worldwide microscopic scrutiny, and permanent consequences.”
On the day of the beating, Hillary, who has cerebral palsy, was caught by her parents downloading illegal music off the Internet. Such extreme discipline at the hands of her father occurred regularly, she claimed, so she secretly set up a camera on her dresser and covered the red "on" light with a scarf. Half an hour later, she received the punishment that is shown on YouTube, as her father repeatedly barks, “Bend over the bed!’’ amidst an expletive-filled rant. He beats her with a leather switch on the legs, arms and buttocks while she cries out.
At one point, Hallie, who divorced Judge Adams four years ago, also smacks Hillary with the strap while saying, “You turn over like a 16-year-old and take it, like a grown woman!’’
"As a parent, I feel like a failure," Hallie Adams said on an msnbc appearance. She said when she saw the video for the first time this past weekend, she considered taking her own life. She also alleged that her former husband was "severely addicted" to painkillers and opiates.
Hallie defended her participation in the incident, saying that her husband's physical and emotional abuse had “brainwashed’’ her.
She left her husband, she told TODAY, when Hillary was 6 months old, but he convinced her to return. She told him to stop texting and contacting her this past June, she claimed, and added that he has threatened to have her younger daughter removed from her custody.
“I lived in an environment of dysfunction, and it steadily got worse,’’ Hallie said. “I was completely brainwashed and controlled. I did every single thing that he did. When I leave the room, he’s telling me what to say, what to do.’’
In an interview with a local news affiliate, Judge Adams responded to questions about the video and the claims of his wife and daughter.
“In my mind, I haven’t done anything wrong other than discipline my child after she was caught stealing,’’ he said. “I did lose my temper, but I have since apologized. It looks worse than it is. There is a story. It will come out in due time.’’
“I think the story that’s going to come out in due time in his mind is that he has projected his problem on to me,’’ Hallie told TODAY. “For the entire four years since I’ve left the marriage, I’ve been abused and harassed with texts (and) emails.’’
Hillary held on to the video for seven years until a series of small disputes with her father led her to post it on the site Reddit. It quickly went viral.
“I waited seven years because back then I was still a minor and living under his roof and releasing it then, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me and my mother and my little sister,’’ Hillary said. “So waiting until today, seven years later, was about me being able to pull away and distance myself from the consequences.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t any huge happening. I told him I had the video, and he didn’t seem to think anything of it and basically dared me to post it.’’
Reddit’s members launched a campaign, pranking the judge by ordering pizzas to his home and posting numbers for local law enforcement and media outlets to gain more attention for the video. Once it hit YouTube, it exploded across the web, receiving more than 1.6 million views in just over a day. The local sheriff’s office has launched an investigation and a Facebook page has popped up calling for people to vote down Judge Adams in the next election, which will take place in three years. Police in the family’s hometown of Rockport, about 200 miles south of Houston, have also been swamped with calls from all over the world looking for them to take action.
“Judge William Adams is not fit to be anywhere near the law system if he can’t even exercise fit judgment as a parent himself,’’ a note on the video reads.
“I think wishing anybody to lose their job is not a really good thing to do,’’ Hillary said. “His being fit for the job, that’s something that I really can’t say that he is.’’
Judge Adams, who routinely rules on cases involving children, has left Rockport, according to police. All of his scheduled hearings have been cancelled, according to a notice in the courthouse. When he does return, a visiting judge will handle any cases involving children for now, according to court officials.
Hillary, who lives on her own, has reconciled with her mother.
“We’re very close now, and when I showed her the video, she started crying and hasn’t stopped apologizing,’’ Hillary said. “I forgive her because she knows everything that happened.’’