Cutie Pie is a local kids consignment store in Hood River. Since we’re on the mailing list, I just got this email from the owner…
Dear Parents in and around Hood River; Customers, Colleagues, Friends and Acquaintances,
I am asking for your feedback in response to a citation I received while parked outside my store (Cutie Pie Consignment) on Aug. 14. I was in a hurry and left Elaina with the AC running on a hot day while I ran in to get her life vest before driving to Lost Lake. The length of time I was away from the car did not exceed 2 minutes. My Colleague Delona Campos- Davis at Small Planet Trading had clear view of my car and acknowledged she was watching Elaina. My car caught the attention of our neighborhood parking enforcement officer and though I had returned before any action had been taken, the police were called and I received a charge of Child Neglect and Endangerment in the Second Degree (a misdemeanor that if guilty would remain on my record impacting my career as a Social Worker and Teacher). Regardless of numerous letters of support provided from child professionals in the community on my behalf, the District Attorney Carrie Rasmussen has not yet considered the specifics of my case and a trial is scheduled for January 25. The proceedings have already required me to be booked, (handcuffed, searched, photographed, released) investigated by Child Protective Services, to hire an attorney at $200 an hour, and appear in court several times without yet having any opportunity to respond to the charges, creating a substantial hardship.
As a Parent your response is very important and relevant to this case. It may help communicate to District Attorney that the incident does not rise to the level of Criminal Neglect, in hopes that she may reconsider having a trial, costly to both me and the tax payer. Below are details of the law demonstrating why I am asking for your reply.
The law is written to give police discretion, allowing them to take into consideration the environment and circumstances at the scene. The charge I received of Child Endangerment is defined as “leaving a child under 10, with Criminal Negligence, unattended, for a period of time that may endanger the health or welfare of the child”. It is important to note that “Criminal Negligence” is when “the person fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk, and the failure to be aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in a situation”. Please note there is no law specifying leaving a child in a car. In this case the police officer was adamant my actions of leaving Elaina in her car seat, with the AC running on a hot day (95+), less than two minutes placed her at serious risk of child abduction by a car thief or sex offender in Hood River and is something a reasonable parent would never do. (His words). Further discussion lead him to clarify that no reasonable parent would leave their child unattended in a car seat, even momentarily in their own driveway.
I believe in this case an important law was misused and that as a community, where police work with citizens to uphold the law, we can do better than this. Parents need to be better understood when enforcing laws. I am not condoning leaving a child in a car, but as I tried to reason with the officer, I believe on rare occasion “it happens” and it is the rare parent who has not on at least on one occasion done so. I pass through this block on average 6 times per day, walking and by car. I know this community as well as any. I believe the risk were not as grave as described. If they are, then as a community we are failing to provide sufficient information and guidance to parents. I could have been offered an alternative to receiving a citation, leading to educating me as a parent and being supportive of other parents who may face a similar dilemma, without risking my financial well being in already unsteady times.
If you would please respond to this inquiry by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and stating:
1. Whether or not you have ever left your child unattended in a parked car under any circumstance, for any length of time (provide details if you like).
2. Your name, the town you live in.
3. Other pertinent information or opinion you wish to share.
4. Please forward this email to other parents and ask them to respond to my inquiry.
The letters collected will be used only to represent to the Attorney a sample illustrating what is reasonable knowledge (what in general is a parent’s experience).
In addition I would advocate a police response that is in balance with the actions of a parent who makes a similar error be created. I have absolutely nothing but the well-being of children in our community as well as my own child’s best interest in mind. I am a solo parent and sometimes take the path of least resistance. I could have been offered a warning, education to the real yet largely unknown safety risk in our community. I could offer, or be offered parent training and public service information relevant to this type of action. I am hoping to follow up in a way that improves the communication between the officers involved and parents. Hopefully other good parents who make a similar decision will not have the grave misfortune of being put through the costly legal process unnecessarily.
Thank you for your time and consideration in this very personal and important matter. Please feel free to ask any questions, I am happy to share additional information.
Small Business Owner and Operator, Cutie Pie Consignment,
Full Time Parent, Licensed Teacher, Certified Social Worker
I’d love to hear what people think about this. I’m writing an email for her and will post it here soon.
Wow -loving the comments. I feel basically the same way. I’m terrified of leaving Gus alone in the car but feel like the police in this case are way out of line. Anyway, here’s what I wrote back to her:
I hope we can help.
We have a 2.5 year old and we live on an orchard in Mosier. Since he’s our first and only child, I am borderline obsessive about his protection. When the weather was agreeable, we used to regularly leave him sleeping in his car seat in the car parked in the driveway just outside the door. We would place a monitor in the car to hear when he woke up and would regularly look at him from the windows.
It’s true that technically someone could have taken him in this situation but the same is also true of him sleeping in his own room at night. In both cases, we have taken reasonable precautions against an extremely rare and unlikely occurrence.
Odds of a child being kidnapped and held or killed by a stranger are 1 in 347,000. They are 10x more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle crash. And 100x more likely to be injured in a car crash. Given those numbers, is it negligent to drive with your child in the car? Perhaps one day, it will be. But not today.
Another study conducted in 1999 by the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children or NISMART, found that in over 70% of stranger kidnapping victims were taken from outdoor areas like parks and playgrounds, and 7% were taken from public buildings like shopping malls. Is it neglect if you take your child to a playground and turn your attention away for two minutes to, say, attend to a crying sibling?
It’s also interesting to consider that 40 years ago we had the same number of child predators that we do now and yet it was perfectly normal for my Mother in Law to leave her sleeping infant in the car in the parking lot of the grocery store. Or to breast feed while driving. These things are not black & white. They are subjective and change over time.
We could easily see ourselves doing what you did since you had a friend watching from the window of Small Planet Trading mere feet away. It is chilling to think of this action being defined as Criminal Neglect.