Sept. 14, 2011 -- An Alabama mother who dropped her two young children off at a Barnes & Noble while she ran errands in town now faces as much as six years in prison for child endangerment.
Charlene Sutherland, of Headland, Ala., was charged with six counts of misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child after leaving her son and daughter, 11 and 6 years old, at a Barnes & Noble in Dothan, Ala., in July. The police allege that Sutherland left the children there unattended for seven hours on three separate occasions, while Sutherland said she would occasionally let the children go there to read while she ran errands.
"My children were home for the summer, not going to school, and one of the things they love to do, they love to read," Sutherland said. "They tell me all about the how the store has a children's section and they can read the books and leave them there so I don't have to buy them, which, frankly, I couldn't afford to do."
Sutherland said her son, Eli, 11, is an avid reader, and she dropped him off a couple of times with his older brother, Nigel, 16, to read while she ran errands in town. On one occasion, the boys' little sister, Faith, 6, wanted to go.
"They go to day care every day, Faith and [youngest son] Noah, and on this particular day Nigel and Ely wanted to go to the bookstore and Faith accompanied them there, and this got blown totally out of proportion," Sutherland said. "Faith is like, she doesn't meet any strangers, so because of the personality Faith has, she might say hi to another girl, and make someone wonder, 'Where's her mom?'"
Sutherland said she dropped off the children at Barnes & Noble after lunch at around 1 p.m., and estimated that she was back to pick them up in about an hour. When she arrived, she found out the children had been taken by Department of Human Resources officials back to the family's home in Headland, she said.
The police, however, said that Sutherland dropped the kids off around 10 a.m. and picked them up between 5 and 6 p.m. at least three times over a two-week period, according to Dothan police Sgt. Rachel David.
Employees in the store said the children were well-behaved, but after the children were dropped off a third time they decided to call police.
"They're a family friendly business, but they are certainly not set up for the liabilities that a day care [center] would incur," David said.
A police investigator and an investigator from the juvenile investigative unit went to the store and spoke with employees, and then issued a warrant for Sutherland's arrest, David said. The 41-year-old mother was arrested at a roadblock when police ran her license and saw warrants for her arrest, according to David.
Because the crime is a misdemeanor it will go before municipal court, and the maximum penalty is a year for each count. The case will be heard on Oct. 12, Sutherland said.