There’s a lawsuit out firing up free-range parents and causing plenty of debate about police intervention in parenting. It comes from Houston, Texas and it centers around mom-of-two, Tammy Cooper. After a phone call of complaint by a nosy neighbor about Cooper’s kids playing in the street unattended, police arrested Tammy Cooper for child endangerment, though the charges were later dropped and Cooper was released. Now she’s suing the neighbor for defamation and the police officer for false arrest. While I feel bad for this mother in this circumstance, I have to admit that I also can relate to the woman who peeked through her windows, saw two young kids playing in the street by themselves and decided to call the police.
The particulars of this story seem a little fuzzy. Apparently the neighbor, Shelley Fuller, called the police with Cooper’s 6- and 9-year-old children were riding scooters in the street. Fuller says they were unattended. Cooper says that she was on a lawn chair on the porch the whole time, though she admits that she sometimes watched her little ones from inside the house through her front picture windows while they play in the cul-de-sac. The police officer who responded wasn’t going to pursue the issue further until Fuller said that she had “struck one of Cooper’s children with her vehicle as they played in the street.”
At that point, even though the story about the vehicle incident ended up being completely false, Cooper was arrested on felony charges of child endangerment and child abandonment. The officer also refused to cuff Cooper with her hands in front of her, even though she told him that she had neck and back issues which make it painful for her to have her hands behind her back. After the children were found to have absolutely zero bumps or bruises from an accident that the mother supposedly didn’t respond to or notice, Tammy Cooper was released. CPS did a follow-up investigation, found no problems and the case was closed.
In this particular case, I feel bad for Tammy Cooper. I think it’s horrible that Fuller would lie about a car accident to make it look like the children were in more danger than they were realistically. I am completely confused as to how a woman can say she personally hit a child with her car and not be questioned or prosecuted in any way. And of course, I don’t understand why the officer couldn’t have, at the very least, handcuffed Cooper in the front of her body to save her from pain. In this instance, I believe that Cooper was treated unfairly.
All of that being said, I can still sympathize with the concerned neighbor. And I don’t think that Tammy Cooper’s case means that neighbors have no right butting in when they see behavior that they think is dangerous.
When I used to pick my daughter up from daycare every day, I would drive through a small suburban neighborhood. And one house always had young children, all definitely under the age of ten, playing in the front yard. I almost never saw a parent out in the front yard with them, but I did witness numerous times that the kids ran out into the street for a ball when cars were coming. I knew to slow down to a crawl when I passed the house because the children on scooters or bikes or big wheels could come into the street at any time.
Every day that I passed that house, I was angry. I was mad at those parents for not keeping an eye on those kids. And I feared that one day a teen would be driving through without paying enough attention and they would hit one of those children. I didn’t know this family, but I used to imagine walking up to the front door and telling them off, because I honestly felt like those kids were in danger. I still wish that I would’ve called CPS to at least file a report and make them aware of the situation.
As a society, our communities are not nearly as strong as they used to be. Plenty of people don’t know the names of those who live around them. They don’t have relationships with them. It’s completely possible that Shelley Fuller and Tammy Cooper had never spoken a word to each other. So while it’s easy to say that the concerned neighbor should speak to a parent themselves, it’s also easy to understand how intimidating such a talk would be. Not to mention, I can see the personal justification in deciding to let the authorities know and letting them decide if there was a problem. Personally I would have called CPS as opposed to the police, but reporting behavior that you see as dangerous shouldn’t be thought of as a negative. People trying to stand up for children they’re worried about shouldn’t be thought of as intrusive or inappropriate.
Lying about the situation was definitely wrong. I can only assume that Fuller was thinking, “Well this could have happened!!” That doesn’t justify it. The decision to arrest Tammy Cooper came down to the police officer. He had to think that the children were in immediate danger from a neglectful parent to make such a harsh call.
In this case, it wasn’t handled properly and it wasn’t fair. But I can’t help but think that if I saw a 6 and 9-year-old playing in the street, I wouldn’t have at least been concerned. I probably would’ve gone out in my front yard to watch them and make sure they were okay. I might have even mentioned something to their mother about being concerned seeing them in the street alone. If the behavior happened over and over again, I might finally call Child Protective Services.
Yes, as a child, I played outside. I rode my bike around the block. But until I was out of elementary school, I would’ve never been allowed to do so without my older brother’s accompaniment or my parents outside as well. Playing in the street is not safe. Streets are made for cars to drive down and not every driver is as aware as you’d like them to be.
My 6-year-old niece is in first grade. I cannot imagine letting her play in the street with a fourth grader as supervision. I think it’s irresponsible. And if it was happening next to me, I would be that neighbor peeking through my curtains to keep an eye on it.