Mother, ex-boyfriend face charges after reportedly punishing child with hot sauce, vinegar


by Whitney Harding

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 5:50 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 24 at 7:00 PM

BULLITT COUNTY, Ky. (WHAS11)-- A man and woman face charges in Bullitt County after police said they used hot sauce and vinegar to discipline a 4-year-old girl.

Brittany Herbst, 23, and her ex-boyfriend James Ford, 29, are both being charged with 1st degree criminal abuse of a child 12 years old or under after admitting to police that they force fed Herbst’s daughter hot sauce and vinegar as a form of punishment. Herbst’s arrest warrant states that this went on for almost a year.

Herbst’s neighbor, Bettina Priddy, said the two daughters, one 4-years-old the other even younger, are always well-behaved, “cute little curly, blonde headed girls.”

“They're adorable,” Priddy said. "That's just sick. I think that's really sick."

Priddy said she hasn’t seen the children in months. They were taken away to live with their grandparents a couple months ago after the youngest one was dropped on her head. It is that incident that led to authorities learning about Ford and Herbst’s forms of discipline. 

According to Herbst’s arrest warrant, Mt. Washington Police Detective Dan Kelty stated in the complaint that, “James Ford physically forced the hot sauce and vinegar into the child’s mouth as discipline on multiple occasions with the assistance of Ms. Herbst.”

Ashley Webb, the director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center at Kosair Children’s Hospital, said despite the fact that hot sauce and vinegar are food products, toxicologists consider them hazardous when eaten by young children. 

“Both of the products are irritants,” she explained. “Hot sauce would have something called capsaicin and while adults may eat spicy foods and kind of have a tolerance to capsaicin, children don't have that."

Webb also said that if children eat to large of an amount of irritants, like hot sauce or vinegar, it would cause intense long term pain for several hours and can have even harsher side effects. 

"We do consider that a poisoning,” she said. “It's going to irritate their mouth, their esophagus and stomach. It can cause vomiting and vomiting with any child is potentially problematic.

The ingredient that causes food items like peppers or hot sauce to be hot and cause irritation is capsaicin, which is used in non-food products as well. 

“If you want to put it into perspective, capsaicin is what's in pepper spray,” Webb continued. “So you know giving these kids capsaicin is the same thing police are using in pepper spray to subdue a fugitive."

Priddy said that if she knew what was going on in that apartment, she would have alerted authorities much sooner. 

"Especially as tiny as they are, they are way too little to understand what you're doing that for," she said.