Florida mom arrested for letting 7-year-old walk to the park

Florida mom arrested for letting 7-year-old walk to the park

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Nicole Gainey. Photo courtesy of CNN. Nicole Gainey. Photo courtesy of CNN.
(CNN) -- After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.

Nicole Gainey, 34, was arrested on July 26 after her son, Dominic, was found by police alone in a park less than a half-mile from her Port St. Lucie home.

On Saturday afternoon, Gainey had given Dominic permission to walk to Sportsman's Park, a route he's familiar with since he uses it to ride his bike to school, her lawyer said. On the way, he passed a public pool, and someone asked him where his mother was.

"They asked me a couple questions, and I got scared, so I ran off to the park and they called the cops," Dominic Guerrisi told CNN affiliate WPTV.

An officer arrived at the park where Dominic was playing a short time later.

"Dominic checked in with his mom a few minutes before the police came and was getting ready to go home for dinner," said Gainey's attorney, John Whitehead, founder of the Virginia-based civil liberties group the Rutherford Institute.

He always has a cell phone with him and was wearing it in a case around his neck that his mother had made. According to Whitehead, the phone had fallen out of his pocket recently and she didn't want him to lose it.

When the officer asked Dominic whether his mother knew where he was, the child told him that she did and he'd just spoken to her on the phone, according to the police report.

Dominic told the police his name, address and mother's name but wasn't able to answer when asked for his date of birth. He was then driven home.

"When I saw the police cars pull up in my driveway, and the officers started asking me about Dominic, I was frantic to know whether he was OK," Gainey told CNN in an e-mail.

According to the report, Gainey told the officer that she let her son go to the park alone once or twice a week.

The arresting officer said that Gainey had failed to provide her son with care and supervision by allowing him to cross the street and go to the park alone. According to the report, he told her that there had been recent criminal activity in and around the park and a number of sex offenders lived nearby.

Gainey was arrested on a felony child neglect charge and taken to jail, leaving Dominic and her 17-year-old daughter at the house with her boyfriend. She was released seven hours later on $3,750 bond.

The Port St. Lucie Police Department has not responded to requests for comment.

As of Thursday afternoon, Gainey's attorney still hadn't received notice of a preliminary hearing. A representative from the Florida State Attorney told CNN that the case hadn't been assigned to a prosecutor yet.

"This is a small town and a safe area," Whitehead said. "Nicole knows she's not guilty of anything, and she'll plead that way if it comes to it."

On Wednesday, Gainey met with an employee from the Florida Department of Children and Families who told her the charges would likely be dropped, according to Whitehead.


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