A Florida mother says she is bewildered after she was arrested and charged with child neglect for letting her son walk to a nearby park alone.
“I’m totally dumbfounded by this whole situation,” Port St. Lucie resident Nicole Gainey told WPTV.
Gainey thought nothing of letting Dominic, her 7-year-old son, walk to Sportsman’s Park on Saturday.
The park is about half a mile from Gainey’s home and it takes Dominic between 10 to 15 minutes to make the jaunt.
“Honestly didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” Gainey said. “I was letting him go play.”
Dominic passed a public pool on his way to the park. A person there asked him where his parents were.
“They asked me a couple questions and I got scared so I ran off to the park and they called the cops,” Dominic told WPTV.
While playing at the park, police officers pulled up and asked Dominic where his mother lives.
Officers took the boy home where police arrested Gainey and charged her with felony child neglect. She told WPTV that she paid a $4,000 bond to get out of jail.
“He just basically kept going over that there’s pedophiles and this and that and basically the park wasn’t safe and he shouldn’t be there alone,” Gainey said.
But Gainey said that she believes Dominic is responsible enough and that he carries a cell phone with him at all times. However, she said she likely won’t let Dominic venture out unsupervised in the future, for fear of arrest.
The St. Lucie County attorney’s office told WPTV that there are no laws which specify how old children must be before they can leave the house without a parent. Cases are handled individually, they said.
A recent spate of cases similar to Gainey’s in which parents have been arrested for letting their children play outside alone have renewed debate over the child neglect issue. Critics of the arrests point out that allowing children to play outside with their friends or unattended was a common occurrence in past decades. Gainey spoke to that in her interview with WPTV.
“My own bondsman said my parents would have been in jail every day,” she said.