- SCENE OF THE CRIME: Mother's car was in this courtyard when a thief drove it away with a child inside.
A woman whose foster child was removed from her home after a carjacking incident will not be prosecuted, her lawyer said last week.
The charge was to be formally dropped at a hearing in district court Feb. 4, Cathi Compton said. Conditions attach: Ashley Moore will have to participate in whatever training or counseling the Department of Human Services may require so she can continue to foster Kaiden Greer, 18 months.
DHS will not comment on the case.
Moore, 38, left Kaiden in her 2004 Land Rover in the driveway of the Children's House Montessori School at 4023 Lee Ave. as she dashed in to pick up her daughter, Cheyenne, at 5 p.m. Jan. 12. She left the car in park but running; while inside the school, someone — school employees said they thought it was a man — stole the car, driving south on Elm Street. The school's driveway runs through the middle of its property, behind a main building that fronts Lee Avenue and smaller buildings in the backyard.
The car was found an hour and a half later abandoned in the 100 block of Beechwood, according to police, with Kaiden inside. He was unharmed. Police quickly arrested Moore on the charge of child endangerment and DHS removed Kaiden — who has lived with Moore since birth — from her custody. Moore's daughter was not removed from the home, Compton said. No arrest has been made in the carjacking.
It is illegal to leave a car unattended with the engine running on public or private streets, including driveways.
The case got considerable attention from the television media and was hotly debated on the Times' Arkansas Blog. Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley's office got several calls from people who didn't want to see Moore punished, including one from a legislator. Callers to Gov. Mike Beebe's office expressed what spokesman Matt DeCample characterized as “passionate thoughts” over DHS' decision to take the child. Compton received “at least 50 letters” from fellow Montessori parents attesting to the woman's character and parenting skills. The writers “not only talk at real length about what a loving, caring parent she is, but how they've all done that,” left kids in their cars, she said.
Letter writers to the Arkansas Times also took up Moore's cause. Lisa Hall, who knows Moore through her own children, sounded a common theme: “How many parents have run in to pay for gas, returned the grocery cart, or dropped off the cleaning?” she asked. “Isn't having your child kidnapped enough of a consequence? We have all learned from her mistake.
“Ashley was charged with felony endangerment of a child and has never been allowed to see Kaiden again. She has been told that she will most likely lose custody of both children. This is a ridiculous overreaction. Laws are not black and white. Unnecessarily removing children from a loving environment is abusive. These are the decisions that discourage good individuals from becoming foster parents and bring a deep sadness to us all.
“As the adoptive mother of three children, I am outraged by this action. No one, parent or child, genetic, fostered or adopted, should ever lose their family due to this type of incident. It implies that those making decisions regarding our foster children have lost touch with common sense and compassion. Who benefits from this type of action? The children? The citizens of Arkansas? The mother?”
Melissa Cable, another writer, charged that news outlets “totally blew this out of proportion. The car was not parked on the street, it was parked in the line where all the parents stop (in the courtyard) to leave their cars to run in to retrieve their child (children). … My point is we all make mistakes or have a lack on judgment at one time or another. Normally, it doesn't have the consequence this one had, but to remove her child (and possibly children) is a horrendous mistake on the part of the state of Arkansas.”
Jegley said he was frankly surprised at how many people told him they'd also left their children in cars and wondered how they would have felt if the carjacking had ended in tragedy. He said he informed callers that he would enforce the law with consistency, but hoped for a “less draconian” resolution to the case.
Moore took custody of Cheyenne, who is her great-niece, in 2005, when the girl was 11 months old. She later got permanent custody. It was at the request of DHS that Moore took in Kaiden, who is biracial, when he was less than 24 hours old. His mother, like Cheyenne's, was a drug user. Kaiden's mother's parental rights have been terminated, and Moore wants to adopt him.
DHS spokesman Julie Munsell said that any foster parent who pleads guilty to or is convicted of child endangerment may not continue to foster.
Police spokesman Lt. Terry Hastings said the last carjacking involving a child he could recall occurred in 2006, when someone stole a van from a newspaper delivery person on her route. The thief was near Lonoke when he realized there was a child in the van, Hastings said, and he abandoned the vehicle in a driveway. The owner of the van was not charged, Hastings said, because “she had not cleared the vehicle but a few feet.”