In two separate incidents, Westport police recently arrested two mothers after their children, ages two and four, were found wandering down a snow-covered street and in a busy Post Road parking lot while temperatures were below freezing, police said.
The arrest that occurred last week, where police said a two-year-old girl was found crying in the road while not wearing jacket, has sparked controversy on Westport Patch as many readers felt that the arrest was unjust.
Police gave the following accounts of the incidents, with further details on each one and Westport Police Captain Sam Arciola's comments on why the arrests were made:
The mother allegedly left her 15-year-old son home with her two-year-old daughter while she was sleeping. Her son was sick so she put him to bed and went shopping.
After about 45 minutes the two-year-old woke up. While her brother slept she wondered outside the house and found her way into a potentially dangerous situation, Arciola said.
“Her son didn’t know he had any obligation to watch her,” Arciola said.
The daughter began to wonder around on a snow-covered street without a jacket while temperatures were below freezing. Officers responded after the Westport Police Department received a call from a concerned neighbor, Arciola said. The neighbors who spotted her reported that she was crying for her mother.
“I don’t know where we would have been without those neighbors,” Arciola said.
The mother, 43-year-old Tinatin Crouch, of Westport, was charged following the incident.
“We take the totality of the situation into consideration,” Arciola said, adding that details such as the child’s age as well as possible actions that could have been taken to prevent the situation are considered. “Our job is to deal with the situation or incident and evaluate whether there was a criminal violation.”
The investigating officer will gather as much information as possible about an alleged incident and then evaluate whether or not a law was violated, Arciola said.
Most recently, Kristen Becker, 34, of Southport, was charged after she left her four-year-old son in the car while she went tanning. The toddler walked from the car to the business and a concerned employee later reported the incident to police.
“The child made his way through the parking lot where he was greeted by staff, then another 10 – 15 minutes went by while the child was inside the business,” Arciola said, adding that staff members finally asked Becker if the youngster was her child.
“We had a four year old who was able to get out of his car and navigate through a very busy parking lot... There is not a lot of life experience there to know that vehicles aren't going to stop,” Arciola said.
Impairing or endangering the health, welfare, morals or safety of a child under the age of 16 can result in one being arrested for risk of injury to a minor in Connecticut, according to Arciola.
The logic behind the law, which was enacted years ago, was that young children do not understand the potential danger that goes along with being left unattended in a vehicle or at home, he said.
“Our number one priority is to make sure that the kid is safe. We work backwards from there,” Arciola said. “Based on the information and totality of the circumstance we then evaluate the proper course of action.”
According to the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch website, Becker has been arrested in Fairfield, Bridgeport and Trumbull on five separate occasions since Oct. 16, 2012. Most recently, Becker was arrested on Jan. 14 and charged with sixth-degree larceny and illegal possession of a shoplifting device, the website states. Although she does have six pending cases in Connecticut, the website does not show any convictions for Becker.
Editor's note: This article originally was published by Westport Patch.