Yesterday, Kelly and I got enmeshed once again with a child neglect case by overzealous neighbors and law enforcement.
It all started around three o'clock in the afternoon while I was in the Tavares library and Kelly was at the apartment compound playground with Katie and other kids playing. Kelly had to go to work soon, so I asked if she needed me back by 3:30 and suggested that she drop Katie off at the library on her way to work, so that I don't have to return home by 3:30.
Kelly texted me that Katie is "playing with a bunch of girls at playground" and that "she left her at the playground with the girls". At 3:09 she Kelly texted me that she instructed the girls to "drop Katie off at the door at 3:30 if they have to leave". At 3:30 she texted me that she had locked the door when she left and that Katie is home with the TV on. I later found out that the girls had returned Katie to the house before Kelly had left the house, thus the change of plan from her being monitored by the girls until I arrive to her staying in the locked home watching TV until my arrival.
But I was busy at the library and didn't arrive home until 4:13 pm. By that time I noticed cops standing in the front of the house and they looked at me when I passed them and asked "what's going on?" I said "what happened?" and the cop said "do you know where your daughter is?" I said my wife had said she left her in the apartment. He said they found her downstairs wandering around unattended and someone had called the cops. Craig was standing there cooperating as part of the "investigation". The white cop then went over to the "juvenile" girls and took down their testimony from down the sidewalk. He left me with the black cop. I told him that Katie had apparently figured out how to open the lock, something we didn't know she was capable of. He asked to see the text messages on my phone. I showed him the messages, which he photographed, including the time stamps. I took custody of Katie, who had been kept by Craig's wife while the police were investigating, and went up to the apartment. Later there was a fire alarm and everyone left the building, but we returned soon thereafter and I did not have any further contact with the cops.
It seemed that the incident was going to be written up and filed but no more. By that time I had notified Kelly what was going on and so when the cops showed up at her workplace (they had asked me where she worked and I had told them) she knew what it was about. She asked that they talk outside so as not to disturb the restaurant environment. After the cops left the restaurant with Kelly they verified that Kelly had a car and asked her to follow them to Eustis the police department building. Kelly asked "why, how long is this going to take? if it's just a half hour or so, why don't we talk here so that I can return to work promptly?" When the white cop (who was the supervisor) heard it, he immediately order the black cop to handcuff her. He said "okay if you're not cooperating we're going to arrest you". At that point, Kelly tried to comply and said she is willing to follow, but the cop refused to cancel the arrest.
They took her in to the police department in handcuffs and the black cop then proceeded on a task of several hours duration to write up a report and a grammatically faulty one at that, albeit a mere 1.5 pages long. Not until after 10:00 did they get through with the report and transported her to the county jail in downtown Tavares. The cops notified me that bail would be $2,000 and that it would take some time for the jail to process her taking her fingerprints and such before she could be released on bail; so I said to Kelly (who was conferenced in on the phone call) that I won't be leaving the apartment to post the bail until they are ready and that she should call me at that time. That phone call I finally received at 11:37. Caller ID identified the phone call from "Securus" and asked me to accept a collect phone call by entering a credit card number. Since I knew what the call was about I just hung up, but the calls kept coming in one after another. It was interfering with my driving as I was trying to follow Google Maps to the Ruby Street address that Kelly gave me. It turned out that that was the wrong address. The sign on one of the municipal buildings that directed to "county jail" didn't seem to lead anywhere. Eventually, I found the entrance to the correct building. There was noone at the security lobby so I walked straight through the metal detector and tried to open the second door. There was a an unlit green button at that door that I pressed to try to alert someone that I was there but noone seemed to notice or care. At a distance I could see several guards sitting behind thick glass one of them monitoring sections of the jail through a collage of closed circuit television screens; they seemed to either not notice me or pretend not to. I tried the other door, marked "exit", and discovered that it was unlocked, so I entered and walked up to the window. I said "I'm here to bail out my wife". He asked "how?" I said with cash. He seemed taken aback. He asked for her name and seemed not be sure how to process a cash bailout. A colleague or supervisor assisted him to fill out the appropriate paperwork, which took some time. at 12:27 (after a 20-30 minute wait) he finally was ready to accept the cash. He had a receipt filled out but said that he couldn't give it to me just yet and that it would be given to her upon actual release, which would take yet another while, since they were busy having just received a few inmates. I verified that Kelly would have access to her personal phone then, not having to use the cumbersome county phone system, and left the jail, not wanting to wait there another hour. Sure enough, I didn't receive Kelly's phone call until 1:34 am. She was emotionally drained and very furious. She first didn't even want to enter the car. I had to return again later to take her home.
Now she is officially charged with "child neglect" FSS: 827.03-2 B. The report contained some info which I hadn't known until I read it. It says that a black kid returned Katie to the apartment twice "once before on that day", seemingly a reference to the 3:30 drop-off but not clear. It also states that Katie defecated outdoors. The report emphasizes that Katie did not have underwear on and that she walked down the stairs 30 feet from the 3rd floor apartment where we lived, and that our apartment is 100 feet from the "busy roadway of Hufstetler Dr and David Walker Dr. In conclusion the report reads that "After speaking to all parties involved I determined Yujie had committed child neglect. I went to Yujie's place of occupation... I advised her of the allegation against her. Shortly after speaking to Yujie I arrested her for child neglect. She was transported to the Eustis P.D. for booking without incident". The arresting officer printed at the top is listed as Wayne G. Perry, though the signature at the bottom seems to be of a difference officer, one Cap. Philip A. Levingston.
This episode, is and will remain a major and cumbersome burden on us, especially Kelly, emotionally and probably financially (if we hire an attorney), not to speak of the time, hassle and grief this is engendering for us both.
But none of this was inevitable, especially the the external actors (other than Kelly and I) who are being overzealous and/or using very poor judgement. Let me start with the internal actors, Kelly and I.
I -- I could have been either more insistent that she drop off Katie with me at the library and not leave her with the kids or at home, OR I could have rushed home quickly so that I arrive at or immediately after Kelly's departure.
Kelly -- While leaving a child home in safe predictable conditions for a few minutes is fine in my opinion, as I elaborate below, she could have (should have?) known that our nannyist society doesn't tolerate it in present times and so prudence should have been practiced here. In our case there was no emergency and it was perfectly expedient for Kelly to drive Katie down to the library as I had advised her. It is possible that her Chinese cultural background, a country in which provincial children commonly play with one another unsupervised by adults, led her to consider it okay, which I understand. But it would have been averted had she known the national norm and zeitgeist here.
Craig B. Yates, the groundskeeper. -- His decision to either call the cops himself or refer the matter to Patty for her to do so was harebrained. The intuitive thing to do with an unattended child about whose welfare you are concerned is to contact the child's guardians if they are known to you. He and Patty have ready access to my phone number from the residents database if they don't already know it. Why didn't they call me or Kelly instead?
In a later conversation with Craig's wife, I explicitly asked her whether she thought she did the right thing by calling cops instead of calling us or dealing with it in a less punitive way. She smugly and blithely said yes. She mentioned that this wasn't the first time --there were prior incidents. When I asked what they were, she repeated what she had said a total of 4-5 times during the conversation "I'm not gonna stand here and have this conversation". (We were standing n front of the house; she proposed that I be invited in to her house at an appointed time to discuss it there.) She then condescendingly said "you're angry now" even though I wasn't yelling or using foul language or anything that would be suggestive of anger. In the end, she either refused to answer the question of why she called cops or answered it inadequately. She doesn't have a valid answer.
It's all part of the liberal scourge of nanny-statism: the belief that the state --and by extension, all responsible citizens-- are liable for the actions of individual member of society EVEN WHEN SUCH ACTIONS DO NOT HURT ANYONE ELSE IN SOCIETY. The liberal ethic is to determine what is considered proper behavior with respect to one's own welfare and then enforce by law. The classical example of this is the mandatory seat belt law (which, regrettably, all states have on their books except for New Hampshire). The flaw in this is that even if it's true that seatbelts SHOULD be worn at all times while driving, --which, incidentally, in my opinion is unproven, unreasonable and incorrect-- that doesn't justify the government using force to get me to do so. Why should the government force someone to do the "proper" thing (granting its propriety for argument's sake) when there is simply no discernible benefit to the larger society?
Patty -- Craig states that he notified Patty and she is the one who called the police. I'm going to believe him on this, but this doesn't excuse him from culpability in Kelly's legal troubles resulting from this. He indisputable escalated this to a higher level imprudently. He could have dealt with it informally and less intrusively and punitively, and as the instigator I would lay more blame on him than on Patty, just as I lay more blame on both of them than on the police, who are trained to magnify offenses to justify their jobs and feel good about their work. Clearly, both of them are now officially on my enemies list.