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(Reuters) - A Florida mother faces charges of child neglect for allowing her 7-year-old son to walk alone to a neighborhood park to play, authorities said on Wednesday.
Police arrested Nicole Gainey, 34, on Saturday after finding the child unsupervised in a park about half a mile from their home in southeastern Florida.
"She lets her kid go play at the park for an hour or so, and now she may get five years in jail," said her attorney, John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group based in Virginia. "This doesn’t seem to make any sense."
The child was wearing a cellphone around his neck, which he had just used to talk to his mother, according to an arrest affidavit. He told police that his mother often let him take the phone and go play on his own.
Gainey was raised with similar freedom, her attorney said, noting she was confused and crying when they spoke on Wednesday.
In a similar case earlier this summer, a South Carolina mother was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to play alone at a park while she worked. The treatment of the woman, who is awaiting a court date, drew outrage from parenting advocates who believe modern culture has become too restrictive of children's activities.
Gainey, who also has a teenager daughter, has been released from jail on bond. Prosecutors will review the case before deciding whether to formally press charges, said Bruce Harrison, the attorney in charge with the State Attorney's Office in Florida's 19th Judicial Circuit.
Police said the child ran across a busy thoroughfare on his way to the park, which had recently seen criminal activity. Gainey's attorney said she was unaware of any recent crime and that her son had been taught to cross the road safely.
Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Peter Cooney