The attorney for Debra Harrell, the South Carolina mother who lost custody of her daughter after allegedly letting her play at a park while she worked at a McDonald’s, wants to set the record straight on why Harrell doesn’t deserve to face the serious felony charge against her.
Harrell, 46, was arrested July 1 and charged with unlawful neglect of a child. That’s a felony carrying as much as ten years in prison if Harrell is convicted, according to her attorney Robert Verner Phillips, of McGowan, Hood & Felder LLC.
Phillips spoke to Business Insider recently to offer his version of the incident. Harrell, a single mother supporting her nine-year-old daughter, originally worked the night shift at McDonald’s. But when her hours changed to the day shift, Harrell began taking her daughter to work with her, where the child took advantage of free WiFi to use the internet.
But after burglars broke into their house and stole the laptop Harrell’s daughter used, the girl asked to spend the day playing at a nearby park instead. That park was about 3,000 feet from the Harrell household, approximately a six-minute walk, according to Phillips.
Although the girl would often ride her electric scooter to the park or walk there with friends on a regular basis, her mother decided last month to drop her daughter off at the park on her way to work at McDonald’s. The daughter had a cell phone with which to call her mum, played with dozens of kids her age, and could walk home in six minutes anytime she wanted to, Phillips said.
“What has been said in the media was that this was dangerous because it only takes a second to snatch your child away,” Phillips told Business Insider. “If that’s the standard then if you take your eyes off your child for two seconds than you must be guilty of this crime, and I don’t think that’s a reasonable risk of harm.”
Although an earlier press coverage said the girl walked a mile and a half from the park to a McDonald’s inside a Walmart, the walk was much shorter, at just hundreds of feet, Phillips said.
The daughter also benefited from a program at the park where adults provided free supervised breakfast and lunches for children playing there, according to Phillips. On the third day Harrell dropped her daughter off at the park, an adult called the police after asking the girl where her mother was.
Harrell has admitted to dropping her daughter off at the park on the way to work. “Her child was not put in an unreasonable risk of harm by being in the park,” Phillips said. “It was as simple as that.”
Harrell was jailed overnight before posting a $US5,000 bond. Her daughter is still in the custody of the Department of Social Services, Phillips confirmed.
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