A judge will rule later in the case of a woman accused of endangering her two children by leaving them unattended at a Dothan bookstore. Charlene Sutherland, 41, was arrested in 2011 on charges she left the children, ages 6 and 11, at Barnes and Noble. Specifically, she is charged with six counts of child endangerment. Sutherland was arrested two months later during a routine police traffic check.
Police and prosecutors claim Sutherland left her children unattended at the store for three consecutive days. Employees of the business notified officers after they became concerned with the children's welfare. "It appears they were dropped off about 10:00 am and not picked up until late afternoon," Dothan Police Sergeant Rachel David said shortly after Sutherland's arrest.
However, those claims are disputed by an older son, Nigel, who testified during Wednesday's hearing before District Judge Benjamin Lewis. The 16-year old told the court he was with the children for two of the days. It was on the third day officers were summoned.
The manager Barnes and Nobles in Dothan, Steve Cagle, testified he called police about 1 1/2 hours after he reported for work at noon. Testimony failed to establish a firm timeline on how long the children had been left unattended though Sutherland claimed, in an earlier interview, it was for "only an hour or so." Cagle also testified the children were well behaved and caused no problems for store employees.
Crystal Strickland, a Department of Human Resources worker, testified she has no issue with the 11-year old being left alone under those circumstances but the 6-year old girl is a concern. However, under cross examination by defense attorney Clay Wadsworth, Strickland testified children are often left by parents at other places. In particular, Wadsworth mentioned bowling allies, movies, Water World, and Fun Zone. Assistant District Attorney Jarrod Blumberg pointed out those businesses has staff to accommodate children.
Wadsworth also contends Sutherland is from Jamaica---a country where customs are much different than in the United States. He pointed out to Lewis the children are well-behaved, love to read, and intellectually bright.
Sutherland did not take the stand. However, during an earlier interview with ABC News, she denied doing anything wrong. Sutherland said her son, Eli, the 11-year old, is an avid reader, and she dropped him off a couple of times with his older brother to read while she ran errands. On one occasion, the boys' little sister, Faith, 6, wanted to go, Sutherland said. The children were on summer break from school at the time.
Lewis said he will take the case under advisement and rule after reviewing case law. If convicted, Sutherland could be sentenced to serve time in the county jail and ordered to pay a fine. Lewis would have the option of suspending the sentence.