Couple accused of waterboarding kids, beating them with a wooden pole, strangulation

Posted at 3:56 PM, March 29, 2023 and last updated 9:04 PM, May 2, 2023

By Julia Marshall

RACINE, Wis. (WTMJ) — A Wisconsin husband and wife are charged with child abuse and strangulation.

Racine County emergency management coordinator James Kerner and his wife, Tiana Kerner, are accused of beating their kids with a wooden pole, waterboarding them, and strangulating them until they passed out.

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According to the complaint, James is accused of slapping and whipping the children, while Tiana is accused of more violent offenses like strangulation and waterboarding.

The accusations came to light after one of the children told a friend’s mother that she was fearful of Tiana.

The friend’s mother contacted the police, who then spoke with the victim. The complaint states the victim told police she had been abused for over 3 years. She said she had been struck by a wooden pole and a hammer, strangulated to the point of losing consciousness, and waterboarded.

The victim told officers she had been forced to engage in sexual acts. Tiana reportedly recorded it and threatened to use it against her should she report the ongoing abuse.

After officers spoke with the victim, they responded to the Kerner residence and spoke with James who denied all the allegations. He allegedly told police that the victim had a history of lying.

Police conducted additional interviews with the victim, who described specific incidents of abuse and what types of abuse she went through.

Police collected phones and cameras that may have recorded the incidents, and found much had been deleted. There were no photos or texts on the phone that the victim said Tiana had used to record specific acts.

There were texts on Tiana’s phone, however, that revealed conversations between James and Tiana regarding “punishment” for the victims.

There were also texts about the kids being forced to stand for long periods of time, forced to sleep on the floor, and denied the ability to do their homework. The complaint states several conversations made it seem like the kids were reprimanded no matter how they responded to Tiana’s questions (too quickly or too slowly).

Police also interviewed a male victim. He had bruises that officials say would’ve required a lot of force. He said the female victim’s injuries were from the two victims fighting, and said her injuries were likely from him hitting her with a wooden pole.

He told police Tiana and James, “would never lay a finger on them.”

Police also gathered statements from the victim’s friends and a woman who knows James. She said she once saw James beat the male victim with a belt. She said he hit the boy so hard, she felt uncomfortable and left the room.

The female victim’s friends told police details about her abuse that she had shared throughout the years. They told police they’ve seen bruises and cuts on the victim.

James and Tiana are both facing the following charges:

  • Two counts of causing mental harm to a child (a third charge for Tiana)
  • Physical abuse to a child – intentionally causing bodily harm (five counts for James, five counts for Tiana)’
  • One count of false imprisonment
  • First-degree recklessly endangering safety (one count for James, three counts for Tiana)
  • Strangulation and suffocation (one count for James, two counts for Tiana)

Tiana is facing these additional charges:

  • Physical abuse to a child repeated acts causing bodily harm
  • Threats to injure or accuse of a crime
  • Misdemeanor intimidation of a victim
  • James is also being charged with two counts of failure to act to prevent bodily harm to a child.

If convicted on all charges, James could face more than 60 years in prison. Tiana could face a maximum of more than 200 years in prison.

This story was originally published March 29, 2023 by WTMJ in Milwaukee, an E.W. Scripps Company.