Tuesday, July 21, 2009


In my morning read of Yahoo news, I came across the disturbing “Gambling Grandma” as being reported on the national wire service AP. Associated Press stories are like the Reader's Digest condensed version of the news. What few facts reported are presented in such a way as to seal up a story as the final word on the matter.

Newspapers, television news and other media outlets outsource a good deal of their reporting to the wire services. Not only is it a great source of filler, but it provides timely leads to breaking news. The end result is that you can pick up a paper from any corner of the world, practically, and read the same story damned near word for word.

Here's the AP wrap up of granny's story:

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- A North Miami woman has been sentenced to 14 months house arrest for leaving her two grandchildren alone in a car while she was gambling.

A Broward judge handed down 54-year-old Jeanne Shahan's sentence Monday. She had pleaded guilty to felony child abuse, misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and misdemeanor leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.

Authorities say Shahan left the children unattended inside a car parked outside Mardi Gras Gaming in August 2008. A witness saw the 2-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy in the car and told the casino's security.

We read over things like this, or hear a television news anchor repeat them, and we nod and think the evil granny got just the punishment that was coming to her. The story passes through our conciousness like so many others – barely disturbing our morning coffee. Most people won't give this story a second thought, unless they've spent a little of their childhood inside cars parked outside casinos.

I know all about waiting for other people to gamble and/or drink while I sit in the car and wait. I did this quite often, and frequently willingly. My patience was often rewarded with a roll of nickels or a treat of dinner. Inside the car was usually the safest place for me at the time.

I don't remember being left in the car before about ten years of age. From ten to seventeen, I grew accustomed to having to wait outside an establishment barring people of my age from entering. In some respect, I was in the car because I was not allowed in the safer environment inside. The best intentions can backfire in unknown ways.

Of course, my story is more than forty years old. Attitudes have changed and become more fearful. What seemed OK to do then, doesn't seem OK to do now. Why is that? Maybe part of our attitude change came from stories like this one from AP. Stories that seem neat, clean and complete.

As you can read in the links below, there is a lot more to the story than AP represents. Why these people were at the casino, how long the children were in the car and what the weather was like are not addressed very well even in the details I uncovered. For example, the kids were in the car but could have gotten out of the car at any time. Apparently, the weather was fouled by a tropical storm so the nearly fifteen year old boy chose to remain inside the dry car.

What strikes me as odd is how leaving a teenager alone with a two year old becomes a crime only if they are left inside an automobile. Grandma could have left the kids at home and everything would have been kosher unless the baby had died. In that case the news would surely point out that granny left the kids alone while she gambled. What if she left them alone while answering an IRS summons?

People hire kids “nearly fifteen” years old to babysit all the time. What's the difference if mom and pop go off for dinner and a show, but granny decides to pull a few slots?

If we conveniently forget the presence of the teenager, a Florida law passed in 2007 makes it a second-degree misdemeanor to leave a child younger than the age of 6 alone in a vehicle for more than 15 minutes, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. The law makes sense because a child younger than six would have trouble getting out of the car. The law doesn't apply here, though.

Instead of the second-degree misdemeanor, the local gendarmes got granny to plead guilty on two misdemeanor counts and one felony count of child abuse! That's right, granny is a felon. I wonder what they threatened her with to get her to cop those pleas?

This case is blown out of proportion and you need to read all the links to see just what a procedural disaster went on. There are laws, civil codes and regulations but there are also policies, protocols and procedures that must be followed especially if your job happens to involve public safety. Granny appears to have fallen victim to a number of good people just doing their jobs.

Let me give you my elaborated overview of the case.

We know granny was driving her grandson and her boyfriend's two-year-old daughter around Fort Lauderdale when she decided to stop at a casino. It was the afternoon of Tuesday, the nineteenth of August, 2008 and a tropical storm was unleashing a torrent of rain, cooling the south Florida heat.

Granny went inside to get her “bank card” and we presume she stayed for more than an hour while gambling (according to investigators.) Meanwhile, the teen and the toddler were stuck in the car – it being too wet emerge outside. Early reporting said the windows were up, never mentioning rain. No doubt they were rolled up and down repeatedly to contend with window fogging and horizontal drizzle.

At some point in the hour or so the kids were in the car, a good Samaritan reported the children's presence to casino security. Security officers moved the kids inside the Mardi Gras Gaming facility in Hallandale Beach. A casino representative said, “the children seem fine” although one of the security guards reportedly said the young girl was wearing a jacket and was sweating profusely. The teenager told a reporter later that he “maybe sweated a little bit, but not really at all."

The kid told security about his grandma and they were able to locate her, although they don't mention what she was doing when found. Most likely, they called her name on the intercom system and she appeared where she was told to go. That's how you find people in casinos, you know.

Somewhere along the line, someone called the authorities in line with proper procedure. Naturally, the children were taken to the hospital by ambulance since no one wanted to take any chances with the health of a minor (or exposure to lawsuits). Whisking the kiddies off for “observation” cleared the way for arresting granny on two counts of aggravated child neglect.

Maybe leaving your teen to babysit a toddler while in the car was stupid, but it wasn't obviously unlawful – just a few “catch-all” clauses hidden under Florida state law were enough to compel granny to confess. Once police have a confession, sentencing usually follows. (Never talk to the police.)

It wasn't what this lady did that was so bad, but where she did it – inside a car. What is so terrible about kids sitting in a car? Had she left the kids on a park bench or inside a movie theater, would she still be arrested? Haven't all parents done something similar at one time or another? You know they have.

Why granny then? Was it just to cover their asses for making a big deal by hospitalizing the kids?

I think it's just procedural puddingheadedness or what might be termed politically correct policy policing. There wasn't any applicable law against what granny did, but still there was this hysterical reaction that seemed to run an automatic course from the first report of “kids in a car” all the way down to required sentencing.

If the teenager had been eighteen, would it be OK for him to sit in the car with a two year old for an hour? Probably, although the casino wouldn't want the insurance risk. Isn't that what nearly all laws are about, the protection of property? Why if someone had been hurt the city or the casino or likely both may have been sued! Let's make an ordinance outlawing anyone sitting in parked cars – for their own protection, of course.

August 20 2008 arrest reporting:


Local circus same day (once with video):


Local media aftermath just AP:


Casino response 22 August 2008:


More info:


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