Telling 11yo to walk home from McDonalds = felony child abandonment?

by Walter Olson on August 28, 2008

Fort Worth Star-Telegram consumer columnist Dave Lieber, 50, had an argument with his son in the restaurant parking lot the morning of Aug. 13, told him to walk home, but doubled back to return minutes later after thinking better of it. Police later arrested him on two felony charges of child abandonment. Watauga, a suburb of Fort Worth, has crime rates well below the national average. (Alex Branch, “S-T Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber arrested”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 27; Dave Lieber, “How parents can learn from serious mistakes”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 15; Chuck Lindell, “Father’s arrest ignites debate over child abandonment”, Austin American-Statesman, Aug. 28).

{ 36 comments }

1 Kent Hervey 08.28.08 at 12:24 pm

This was a silly arrest. Nobody should have called the police. The police should not have arrested him. Someone should have scolded the boy for disrespect. The boy was not abandonded. He was made to feel abandonded, but so what? This kind of thing was done a lot in the 50s, and 60s, and 70s. It does not hurt the child, but rather teaches them they are not in charge of the parents.

2 Deoxy 08.28.08 at 1:01 pm

No time for real outrage today, but this deserves it.

Unless it was at least several miles to their house, the kid could have been made to ACTUALLY walk home, and I would have been fine with it.

3 Bill Poser 08.28.08 at 1:17 pm

I think that people’s reaction to this case conflates the question f whether this was good parenting (probably not: the father was throwing a parental tantrum) with whether there was any endangerment. Suppose that the boy had gotten up too late for breakfast at home and that his father had to go somewhere, so he offered to drop the boy at McDonalds, from which the boy could walk home. Unless the neighborhood was dangerous or the boy was unusually immature for 11 years, I would say that this would be perfectly reasonable, not a cause for charges of endangerment. If so, then what this father did was not endangerment either.

4 cowpill 08.28.08 at 1:25 pm

My dad lived here as a kid and at 10-11 yo I pretty had the run of the whole town, I don’t really see the issue.

5 Barry Nordin 08.28.08 at 2:08 pm

If the boy leaves the house to play and you don’t stop him, is that considered by the police as “abandonment?”

6 Todd Rogers 08.28.08 at 3:30 pm

Or, consider the alternative – at least those of you who are regulars to this site. Hypothetical: Cops get a call about a kid walking down the street and don’t intervene. Something really bad happens to the next kid walking down the street(accidental or via roving psychopathic pedophile, for instance). Attorney of second kid’s father learns of first kid and paints picture to jury of a pattern of dereliction by local police…Jury finds for plaintiff, puts tax payers on the hook for $2MM comp and $10MM pun in damages, which then cause liability insurance premiums to skyrocket. Cops have to lay off two officers due to cutbacks and city becomes that much more vulnerable to other bad things happening as a result. Sound familiar?

7 John Malkoski 08.28.08 at 3:34 pm

I was apparently “abandoned” almost every day when I was 11. If I wanted to go somewhere my parents told me to walk or ride my bike.

8 John Burgess 08.28.08 at 5:08 pm

Holy Cow! I didn’t realize that’s what my parents where up to!

They’d send me to the market three blocks away, which meant I had to cross two streets–with no traffic lights, no ‘walk/don’t walk sign’–and walk to the corner of a busy intersection, in Detroit, to get there. And I was only seven!

I had to walk past the house of a teen-age perv, too. I knew where he lived as did most of the neighborhood. I actually had to cross the street to avoid walking directly in front of his house, just in case.

I can’t file charges against my parents now. Too much time and besides, they’re both dead. There must be somebody I can sue though, right?

9 Walter Olson 08.28.08 at 5:41 pm

I grew up in Detroit as well, and had the run of the downtown when I was 11. (It was a far safer city back then, admittedly.) But then all sorts of parenting practices that were routine in that era (like leaving kids in a car in temperate weather for ten minutes while dashing into a store) now can get parents arrested.

10 Sean O'Brien 08.28.08 at 7:45 pm

This is absolutely nuts. Absolutely nuts. The cops who arrested this man ought to be locked up for violating this parents civil right to direct the upbringing of his own children. An 11 year old can walk home in a safe neighborhood, even if it’s 2 or 3 miles away–I used to walk miles when I was a kid. Hell, there are a lot of 11 year olds walking around in unsafe neighborhoods. Are we going to arrest all of their parents?. And what in the world is some cop doing giving a stern lecture in the first place?

11 gitarcarver 08.28.08 at 8:02 pm

And what in the world is some cop doing giving a stern lecture in the first place?

As many in this thread have noted, the world is a different place than when we were young. There are people out there that want to harm children and the police and society should help keep kids safe.

That being said, the father was arrested 2 full weeks after the incident occured. He is being charged with two felonies.

That’s nuts.

The citizen that called the cops did a decent thing. The cops coming to check is a good thing. When all is said and done, and the father returned for the kid, the cops should have just reminded him of the dangers of leaving the child on the streets like that.

That should have been the end of it. Instead, tons of man hours in investigations took place, court time will be wasted, and lawyers will be paid to defend this.

What I really want to know is if the police, while there and talking with the child and then the parent, were looking into the car to see if there was any indication of animal abuse.

12 Todd Rogers 08.28.08 at 9:09 pm

gitarcarver stole my thunder…I was so close to using that animal abuse bit but could not weave it in to my post.

Nevertheless, gitarcarver also make an excellent point about the waste of resources that has come as a result of our society being overlawyered.

13 Ron Miller 08.28.08 at 9:45 pm

Yes, it is always so fun to make a good animal abuse joke. What a shame your thunder was stolen from you. I guess you could not find a segue into that complex post which, correct me if I’m wrong, was in canzone. Thankfully, we still have fur trappers and people beating seals to keep things hysterical.

I think reasonable minds will prevail and the charges will be dropped. But, as the father says, he made a serious error.

14 JB 08.28.08 at 11:09 pm

My 11-year-old son is sitting right here. I asked him what would happen if we were at the mall and I got mad and left him there and drove home. He said “I guess I’d walk home.”

I think my point is that his first reaction was a matter-of-fact response – he’d walk home. He didn’t say “I’d call the police” or “I’d call grandma and tell her what you did.”

(He did say it would be nice if I left him a twenty so he could buy some Chipotle before he came home.)

15 Todd Rogers 08.28.08 at 11:13 pm

Hey, why do you want to criminalize fur trapping and starve indigenous arctic peoples? That wouldn’t be funny at all, red-straw-man-herring.

16 Sean O'Brien 08.28.08 at 11:43 pm

“The world is a different place.” Uh, not really. There were lots of kids being grabbed in the 60s, the 70s and the 80s. Moreover, the risk of a stranger grabbing your kid is pretty small. Obviously, we all want to be vigilant etc. etc., but an 11 year old, in broad daylight should be able to walk home alone in a safe suburb without police intervention. Heck, I see 11 year olds by themselves all the time in my neighborhood in Chicago, and the cops don’t stop to investigate. Are their parents being neglectful? I think not.

Basically, the message here is that if your 11 year old is out of your sight in public, then you have abandoned your child (obviously, if the kid didn’t know his way home, different issue). That may sound wrong, but how in the world do you distinguish this fact pattern from any other fact pattern where the child is out of sight? The answer is that you cannot. That’s what makes this action by the cops petty tyranny. And good intentions doesn’t excuse it at all.

And don’t think this nanny-statism doesn’t have its own costs. Kids don’t play outside anymore, and that has deleterious effects on health. What are the hidden costs of that? Plus, had that kid walked home, he would have been a proud little boy taking one small step to adulthood. Heck, when I was 8, I got lost in some woods behind my house–finding my way home is a fond memory from childhood. Finally, what about the fact that parents now tote their 11 year olds around in cars (instead of letting them alone)–that gets a lot of kids killed too.

Ultimately, there is risk no matter what you do. Unfortunately, that’s life.

17 gitarcarver 08.29.08 at 12:33 am

Heck, I see 11 year olds by themselves all the time in my neighborhood in Chicago, and the cops don’t stop to investigate. Are their parents being neglectful?

In some circumstances, they may be. Are you really trying to say that children should not have any parental supervision or that parents should not be responsible for their children’s safety whenever possible?

That may sound wrong, but how in the world do you distinguish this fact pattern from any other fact pattern where the child is out of sight?

It could be argued that how the child gets out of sight matters and helps define the neglect. A person walks in a store and leaves an infant in a hot car for an hour. Are you saying that is not neglect? In this case, it was not a case of a child being told to walk home, it was a case where the child was literally being forced to walk home while the father was driving away and not letting him in the car even though the kid was trying to get in.

Those examples are radically different than a kid walking to the store with the consent and knowledge of his parents and therefore being out of sight.

Plus, had that kid walked home, he would have been a proud little boy taking one small step to adulthood.

Disobeying your father, throwing a tantrum when you don’t get your way in a restaurant, and throwing a tantrum in a parking lot is part of a “small step to adulthood?” Not in my world. It would be a small step in being self centered, inconsiderate, rude and selfish, none of which are desirable traits in an adult.

Someone called the police to make sure that this 11 year old was okay and safe. There is nothing wrong with that as the person who called had no idea how far the child was away from his home. There is nothing wrong with citizens looking out for the weakest amongst us, and the police assisting with that goal as well.

The problem is the charges, the wasted time, the wasted money, and the stigma that will follow both the father and the kid for a long time.

Note to Ron Miller
Yes, it is always so fun to make a good animal abuse joke.
The joke was not about animal abuse. I take animal abuse very seriously. The joke is a law that requires untrained, overworked governmental workers to become experts in fields in which they have no specific training or expertise above that of the common person.

THAT’S the joke, and a sad one at that.

18 Pat 08.29.08 at 8:51 am

There’s a lot about this situation that’s absurd. What’s deeply disturbing to me is the fact that he’s being charged with felonies. A felony conviction in today’s day and age is a sentence that carries sever consequences.

Which is why it’s insane that legislatures are trying to turn so many things into felonies, and that prosecutors are trying to twist actions so they fit a felony, rather than some more reasonable, lesser charge.

19 Ron Miller 08.29.08 at 9:18 am

Gitacaver, he said he wanted to use that “animal piece bit” and that his “thunder was stolen.” Then he followed with a comment praising the trapping of animals, a practice where they are caught, badly injured and then the suffer for extended periods of time before the die.

So you think I’m way off base in my comment, huh? The irony is that I think you are probably more in line with me on these issues than Mr. Rodgers.

20 Todd Rogers 08.29.08 at 11:08 am

Ron: Red Herring, Strawman – did you miss it? Isn’t it true, sir, that you want to starve arctic dwellers and also ban the use of natural fibers in the manufacturing of clothing? You said you did.

21 krs 08.29.08 at 3:21 pm

Dadgummit, when I was 11 I had an uphill walk to school and then another uphill walk when I returned home. I only had one shoe to get me through my teenage years and I had to earn the money for a hat by working odd jobs after school. Kids today are spoiled rotten… and now it’s apparently against the law not to spoil them rotten. What’s this world coming to?

22 gitarcarver 08.29.08 at 3:36 pm

Ron,

So you think I’m way off base in my comment, huh?

I have reread my comments and can’t find where I made any baseball reference at all. ;)

My “joke,” as I explained, was the combination of two threads – this one and the one dealing with NY wanting to have child care workers look for evidence of child abuse.

My reading of Todd’s comment was that it is one of sarcasm and satire concerning animals.

I can’t remember ever disagreeing with your posts or Todd’s before, but even if I did I have respected your point of view. In other words, I enjoy reading your comments. I get the impression that you are slightly riled up by either my joke, or Todd’s response to it. To rile anyone up was not my intention and if I did, please accept my apologies.

23 adc 08.29.08 at 4:56 pm

Good anecdote for the modern police state: innocuous activities accepted as completely normal by sane people redefined as “grave dangers,” vindictive cops overstepping bounds, the state interfering in private parental decisions, harmless, law-abiding people threatened with incarceration and debilitating legal fees, and resources devoted to the frivolous- while truly criminal corporations are bailed out with taxpayer money and military contractors bleed off billions.

24 Sean O'Brien 08.29.08 at 8:16 pm

gitcarver, your analysis is sorely lacking. First of all, the statute itself does not turn on the voluntariness of the child with respect to where he happens to be, but rather the danger in which he would find himself. Thus, there really is no way to distinguish this set of facts with any other situation where an 11 year old child is out of his parents’ sight.

Second, this is argument:

“In some circumstances, they may be. Are you really trying to say that children should not have any parental supervision or that parents should not be responsible for their children’s safety whenever possible?”

is patently absurd. I am not saying that parents aren’t responsible for their children, I am saying that in the exercise of their parental responsibility, said parents can allow their children freedom of movement (which, as I have explained earlier, is no different from forcing them to be free of parental oversight–the key issue is the safety of the environment–in other words, if we wouldn’t arrest the parents of an 11 year old who showed up voluntarily at the McD’s, then it’s of no moment that the kid was left there against his will (assuming, of course, he knew his way home)). Also, I never said that parents shouldn’t supervise–they should. That just doesn’t mean that they have to “whenever possible” assure that the kids are as safe as absolutely possible.

I don’t see how the infant in the hot car issue is remotely the same.

I don’t know what to make of this statement:

“Disobeying your father, throwing a tantrum when you don’t get your way in a restaurant, and throwing a tantrum in a parking lot is part of a ‘small step to adulthood?’ Not in my world. It would be a small step in being self centered, inconsiderate, rude and selfish, none of which are desirable traits in an adult.”

I said nothing of the sort. The walk home would have been the proud moment, not the tantrum. Do you even read before you respond?

I agree that a concerned citizen could help out a little boy. Myself, if the kid told me he knew the way home, I’d simply go about my business, since I would trust that his parents know what they are doing. I don’t walk up to unsupervised 11 year olds and ask where their parents are. That would get me arrested.

There is no doubt that bad things happen in the world. There is also no doubt that having the state intrude so much into the parent-child relationship is a bad thing too. I would fire the cop on the spot.

25 gitarcarver 08.29.08 at 9:05 pm

Thus, there really is no way to distinguish this set of facts with any other situation where an 11 year old child is out of his parents’ sight.

I am sorry, but you are wrong. The fact that a child is at a little league game is not the same as a child being left on the side of the road.

(which, as I have explained earlier, is no different from forcing them to be free of parental oversight–the key issue is the safety of the environment

It is different. I am sorry that you cannot see that.

I don’t see how the infant in the hot car issue is remotely the same.

Thank you for admitting that there are difference in the ways when the child is “out of sight” and how they got there.

I said nothing of the sort. The walk home would have been the proud moment, not the tantrum. Do you even read before you respond?

Why the insults? How is it a “proud moment” for the kid to be walking home? The walking home was not a right of passage. It was a punishement for the things I listed. Your “proud moment” is akin to a guy walking out of a prison after serving time.

I would fire the cop on the spot.

For what? Trying to protect a kid? For lookign after the people that pay his salary? For doing the right thing?

So what are your grounds for firing the cop? The idea that he arrested the father?

Oh wait. He didn’t. The father was arrested 2 weeks later. In fact according to the father’s mea culpa, he writes “My son apologized to me, and I apologized to him. The officer asked if we were OK to go home. Properly chastened, we were.

The cop was called to a scene and did his job. The parent doesn’t seem to have a problem with the cop or the way he handled the situation.

26 Ron Miller 08.29.08 at 9:06 pm

Decent quality 11 year-old kids get into arguments with their parents all of the time. This is often “self centered, inconsiderate, rude and selfish.” It is also being 11.
___

Git, the animal abuse comment was directed at Todd Rodgers’ comment. He has made clear that he does not see animal abuse as a social evil.

27 Todd Rogers 08.29.08 at 9:33 pm

Ron. I think I’ve made it clear that your arguing capability is not nearly as poor as your reading and analytical ability. Do your humility a favor: re-read my posts. Next, investigate the various fallacies currently available in the market of linguistics. Then, after you pick up on my clues, figure out which ones apply to your writing. Then, revisit this thread and report back your errors. Given that the written word sometimes lacks tone, inflection, and other sundry non-verbals, I’ll toss you a bone. For the third and final time, you’re missing something that I’m confident the rest of the readers saw quite clearly. I’ve not, nor will I offer an opinion about abuse of animals. I made a parallel between two threads using the absurdity of one to demonstrate the absurdity of another. The fact that this is isolated to the treatment of animals has no merit in this venue. LAY OFF THE SAUCE!

28 gitarcarver 08.30.08 at 1:34 pm

Decent quality 11 year-old kids get into arguments with their parents all of the time. This is often “self centered, inconsiderate, rude and selfish.” It is also being 11.

I agree that is it part of being 11. It is not, however, a part of a moment of triumph or a step to adulthood.

29 Harry 08.30.08 at 3:43 pm

Criminal charges? Has everyone gone both stupid and insane?! When I behaed badluygrowing up there were consequences. having consequences teaches you manners, respect and how to take care of yourself. So now what, your kids can yell at you, scream obscenities at you, throw their food at you, kick you and if you yell back or wak them out of a public place or make them walk home you go to jail?? Are you kidding me? That is so far beyond being totally insanity it defies description. No wonder our society and this country are doomed. It’s only going to get worse. ur kids are rude, fat, lazy, stupid and spoiled and to top it off that have this amazing sense of entitlement; and they do it all with no class and they get rewarded for it. Sad, this is just beyond sad.

30 Harry 08.30.08 at 4:07 pm

Sorry for the typos everyone. I meant to say ‘our’ kids, not ‘ur kids, and ‘behaved badly’, ‘walk’ instead of ‘wak’ etc. I’m simply amazed that a parent can be charged with felonies (we’re talking felonies here everyone, this isn’t jaywalking) because he told his kid to walk home. Unless they live in south central LA or some other super dangerous neighborhood, all walking home will teach a child is that there are consequences for bad behavior and maybe the walk will teach the kid some self-reliance and maybe even burn a few calories (which after eating at McDonald’s wouldn’t be a bad thing).

31 Cecil 08.30.08 at 5:53 pm

If they lived next door to mcd’s could a parent direct the child to go buy a meal or walk home? A block away? Two blocks away? At 12? At 11? At 10? Where do you draw the lines? Who has the right to make the determination? Ask that question to ten different parents and you will probably receive ten different answers. The distance and age will vary usually dependant on the parents beliefs and the perceived capabilities of that parent’s child(ren). There is a middle school across the street from my home, they permit children from the neighborhood to walk home. Since this sub-division is fairly extensive, that may involve as much as a mile or more walk. Is the school criminally abandoning those children since they are responsible for them once placed in their care?

32 Lauren from NRH 09.02.08 at 7:15 pm

I think the kid was out of line – and so was Leiber. Your kid acts like a spoiled jerk and your response is to try and bargain with him, then leave him at a restaurant and drive away as the is trying to open the car door???? Sounds like a teenage lover’s spat, not an argument between parent and child. How about, pick up your remaining breakfast and take it home – along with the brat. No more restaurants for him for awhile. For that matter, take away the cellphone, Wii, new expensive athletic shoes, the computer and house phone – you owe the kid a roof over his head, food, clothes and schooling. Period. If he doesn’t respect you enough to act decently and obey the rules, then you don’t give anything extra. It works – but you have to be fair, consistent – and MATURE. The only lesson taught here was that an adult couldn’t handle an argument with a child, so he acted like a child himself. It wasn’t criminal, it was idiotic. Punishment and discipline doens’t have to be a mind-screw to work. You can be a stable parent and be effective (it blows me away that people think this act was okay – act like that on a job and you would be fired). While not a crimainal offense,the citizen that called authorities and the police that arrived did what they should have done – which was to make sure a kid was safe. And for the closing, it wasn’t about the kid walking home in the daylight in a safe area, it was about BEING A PARENT. Jeez, grow up already.

33 kathryn 09.03.08 at 8:19 am

Hello people. What ever happened to loving your child and giving a hug. Possibly telling them you love them? I can’t take it. The young generation is one that believes We Owe Them Something. It never ends. Rude manners. I want more, more, more of your money, cars, household, etc. Electronics have ruined the young kids. I will bet you not many of them even watched any of the Olympic Games in China. They don’t care and they are lazy. Give me. Give me. That is what they have become.

Grow up parents. Don’t give them…….make them work for it like we all had to. We have values. They do not.

34 Tammy 09.15.08 at 11:06 am

This is ridiculous..whoever called the police should feel like a complete idiot. I would have done the same thing and the police should have backed up the father. I think the police are setting a horrible example by charging the father. I just saw this story on Fox News and could not comment there so came here…the lady [guest on the show] completely agreed with the charges and I would be shocked to find out if she has kids and if she ever does what little tryants they will turn out to be…the same goes for the police officers that came to this stupid conclusion. This is a prime example of the high cost of our legal system…complete stupidity!

35 Blitzer Vance 09.15.08 at 11:08 am

I am just wondering if in fact Texas law enforcement is so concerned for a child’s safety that they charged this father with such an inconsequential act, are they now descending on the SE Texas coast? If in fact this father was endangering his son, what of all those parents who kept their children in the path of Ike? Particularly what of the parents of the 12 year old in the photograph televised nationally playing with a deadly ocean surge?

36 David Townsend 09.16.08 at 2:07 am

I have a question that has occurred. If he had sent the child out on his own to get his own meal in the first case, would he have been charged?

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