PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - A mom faces a charge of child neglect after she allowed her son to go to a local park alone. She says he's old enough, but Port St. Lucie Police disagree. Now she's fighting back.
"I'm totally dumbfounded by this whole situation," says Nicole Gainey.
It began last Saturday afternoon when Gainey gave her son, Dominic, permission to walk from their house to Sportsman's Park.
"Honestly didn't think I was doing anything wrong," says Gainey. "I was letting him go play."
The park is a half mile from their Port St. Lucie home. Dominic says it only takes him about 10 to 15 minutes to get there. During the walk, the 7-year-old passed a public pool. Someone there asked him where his mom was.
"They asked me a couple questions, and I got scared so I ran off to the park and they called the cops," says Dominic Guerrisi.
Dominic was playing at the park when an officer pulled up.
"They said, 'Where does your mom live?'" says Dominic.
Police took him home. That's when his mom was arrested and charged with child neglect. Gainey says she was shocked.
"My own bondsman said my parents would have been in jail every day," says Gainey who paid nearly $4,000 to bond out.
The officer wrote in the report that Dominic was unsupervised at the park and that "numerous sex offenders reside in the vicinity".
"He just basically kept going over that there's pedophiles and this and that and basically the park wasn't safe and he shouldn't be there alone," says Gainey.
She believes Dominic is mature enough to go to the park alone during the day. Gainey adds her son always has a cellphone which she calls to check on him.
"That I'm here and safe," says Dominic.
Gainey plans to fight the felony charge. But after this she won't let Dominic go to the park alone. She's afraid she'll be arrested again.
The St. Lucie County State Attorney's office says there is no law that specifies how old a child has to be before he or she can go somewhere unsupervised. It's done on a case-by-case basis.
Her arrest is causing a national debate, and ABC Action News asked Tampa Bay parents for their opinion.
"I think that's too young to allow your child to be alone and unsupervised," says Jason Gonzales as he threw a Frisbee with his daughter Tuesday at a Hyde Park playground. She is 6, and Gonzales says that's too young to be left alone.
Some parents think a more free-range style of parenting helps children develop.
Danielle Calhoun, a mother of two young boys, thinks being overprotective can be damaging.
"What we're doing unintentionally through over-sheltering our children is we're turning them into scared adults," she said.