The nearly 8-minute video, viewed more than 950,000 times as of late Wednesday, shows Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams lashing his then-16-year-old daughter in the legs more than a dozen times and growing increasingly irate while she screams and refuses to turn over on a bed to be beaten. The video was uploaded last week.
"Lay down or I'll spank you in your (expletive) face," Adams screams. His daughter, Hillary, wails and pleads for him to stop.
Tim Jayroe, the police chief in William Adams' hometown of Rockport, a Gulf Coast community about 200 miles south of Houston, said that he's asked the Texas Rangers to assist in investigating whether the video shows anything criminal happened. He said his department began investigating after receiving phone calls from several concerned people who watched the secretly recorded 2004 video.
No one answered the door at William Adams' home in Rockport on Wednesday, and repeated calls to his office rang unanswered. However, the 51-year-old judge told Corpus Christi television station KZTV on Wednesday that the video "looks worse than it is," and that he doesn't expect to be disciplined or punished because of it.
"In my mind, I haven't done anything wrong other than discipline my child after she was caught stealing," Adams said. "And I did lose my temper, but I've since apologized."
Reached at her mother's home in Portland, Texas, Hillary Adams told The Associated Press that her father became irate after she was caught illegally downloading media files she hadn't paid for. She said she feels some regret over posting the video because she said she doesn't want to see her father punished, but that she hopes it will spur him to seek help.
He's supposed to be a judge who exercises fit judgment," she said.
Aransas County Sheriff Bill Mills said that since the video was posted, William Adams has received threatening phone calls and faxes at the courthouse.
"People are upset, understandably upset. But emotions can't really run this thing," Mills said.
On Wednesday, a neighbour said she saw Adams packing up to leave with bags, a briefcase, clothes and rifles, which his girlfriend carried to the truck.
"He looked like he was here for a purpose," said Stephanie Perry, who lives across the street.
A secretary for the William Adams' attorney, William Dudley, said that Dudley was unavailable to comment.
In the video, Adams is apparently unaware the camera is on when he enters the room, turns off the light and tries forcing his daughter onto the bed to be beaten.
"Go get the belt. The big one. I'm going to spank her now," Adams is heard saying in the clip's opening seconds.
A few minutes into the video, a woman appears and barks at the girl to "turn over like a 16-year-old and take it! Like a grown woman!" For about a minute, the ordeal appears to have ended after both adults leave the room and shut the door. But the judge then storms back into the room and the beating resumes.
Hillary Adams said she set up the camera because she knew "something was about to happen." Toward the end of the video, her father shouts that he plans to beat the girl "into submission" and rants about having a computer in the house and the problems it causes. The video ends with the adult woman telling her to leave the room and sleep on the sofa.
Elected in 2001, Adams draws an annual salary of $138,055 as Aransas County's top judge. He dealt with at least 349 family law cases in the past year, nearly 50 of which involved state caseworkers seeking to determine whether parents were fit to raise their children.
Texas' Department of Family and Protective Services is aware of the video and "will take the appropriate steps in this matter," agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said in an email. He said the agency would have no further comment.
Steve Fischer, a longtime attorney in Rockport, called Adams fair and a "better than average" judge. He said Adams sometimes shows anger, but not in a way that would be considered unusual.
Children's advocates roundly condemned the beating as abuse. However, investigators may decide that the judge's actions, while shocking to many, weren't criminal.
The lines between what's deemed child abuse and what's considered an acceptable level of discipline differ in various parts of the country and among various social groups, though the use of objects such as belts and sticks is usually seen as beyond any normal physical punishment, said David Finkelhor, a University of New Hampshire sociology professor who heads the school's Crimes against Children Research Center.
Jim Hopper, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and a child abuse expert, said there is no doubt that the judge's actions crossed the line.
"This is an act of brutal violence," Hopper said.
"To beat someone into submission is not discipline. To beat a child into submission makes it harder for that child to take in rules and the values that the parent believes they are imposing on the child."
Hillary Adams' parents divorced in 2007 after 22 years of marriage, according to court records. The divorce petition states that "the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities," but a counter-petition filed by Adams' ex-wife states that the divorce was filed under grounds of "mental cruelty."
Court records show that the couple had another daughter who was 6 at the time.
(Warning: disturbing content in video)