Court Cases I WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

[UPDATE] Mother Changes Plea in Child Neglect Arrest Case

[UPDATE] 10-5 by Lanetra Bennett

A Tallahassee mother is sentenced on child neglect.

The woman was arrested this Summer when her three-year-old was found wandering in a parking lot in the middle of the night.

Tamara Bennett gets 36 months probation on each of the four counts of child neglect.

Wednesday, the judge told her they're to be served concurrently, which means three years probation.

Tallahassee resident Adrian Foushee says, "It should be nothing at all if she would be responsible. She's lucky she got that."

Bennett was arrested June 3rd.

Her three-year-old son was found wandering around alone 1:00 in the morning in the parking lot of the hooka bar, Cafe Shisha off West Tennessee Street in Tallahassee.

Police found Bennett's other kids -- ages 12, 10, and 5 -- alone in a room at the Budget Inn nearby.

Officers say Bennett had left them there possibly two hours.

"I don't think that's good parenting. I think people should take more consideration in taking care of their children." Says Foushee.

Bennett has been investigated for failing to supervise her children at least six times since 1999.

However, Tallahassee resident Theodore Johnson says Bennett's sentence is appropriate because it gives her a chance to turn her life around.

His advice to Bennett, "Just make sure you stay on the right track."

He says he has done so.

Johnson says he was busted for drugs in that very same motel; and has been clean for 12 years.

He says, "I thank the person whoever caught me that day it just made my life different."

The judge has ordered Bennett to substance abuse and mental health evaluations.

Bennett would have been ordered to take parenting classes, but, she completed them while she was in jail.

Prosecutors say the Florida Department of Children and Families has closed its case with Bennett,

Prosecutors say Bennett's mother has custody of the four children.

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[UPDATE] 10-5 -Noon by Lanetra Bennett

A Tallahassee woman charged with four counts of child neglect faces a judge this morning.

The mother was arrested back in June when her toddler was found wandering outside a local bar in the middle of the night.

Judge Hankinson went ahead and sentenced Tamara Bennett during her plea hearing this morning.

As she stood before the judge still handcuffed, Bennett changed her plea from not guilty to no contest.

Bennett was arrested June 3rd after her three year old son was found wandering in a parking lot around one a.m. near Cafe Shisha bar in Tallahassee. Police learned that Bennett had left her four kids in a nearby hotel room alone. During this morning's plea hearing, Judge Hankinson sentenced Bennett to 36 months of probation. He gave her credit for her 119 days in jail and for the parenting class she completed while in custody. She also has to pay court costs, which the judge reduced because Bennett is unemployed with four kids.

A state prosecutor said in court that Bennett's mother has custody of Bennett's kids. The prosecutor says the Florida Department of Children and Families says their case is closed.

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Updated 10-5 by Lanetra Bennett

Tamara Bennett changed her plea this morning from not guilty to no contest.

Bennett is charged with four counts of child neglect. She was arrested June 3rd after her three year old son was found wandering in a parking lot around 1am near Cafe Shisha in Tallahassee.
During this morning's plea hearing, Leon County Judge James Hankinson sentenced Bennett to 36 months probation. He gave her credit for her 119 days in jail and for the parenting class she completed while in custody.

Bennett has to have substance abuse and mental health evaluations within 30 days.

She also has to pay court costs, which the judge reduced because Bennett is unemployed with four kids.

A state prosecutor said in court that Bennett's mother has power of attorney and custody of Bennett's kids. The prosecutor says the Florida Department of Children and Families says their case is closed.

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UPDATED 9.7.2011 Noon by Julie Montanaro

A mother whose child was found wandering in the Cafe Shisha parking lot was set to go to court on September 7th to enter a plea, but that didn't happen.

33-year-old Tamara Bennett was charged with four courts of child neglect. The 3-year-old child was found wandering alone at one o'clock in the morning on June 3rd. When police followed the toddler to the Budget Inn next door, they found three more children inside, and no adult in sight.

Today, Bennett was expected to enter a plea deal, but a contact in the state attorney's office says it's been delayed. A new plea hearing is set for September 21.
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UPDATED 6.10.2011 6:45pm by Julie Montanaro

A Tallahassee woman is now in jail. A week ago her three year old son was found wandering in a bar parking lot in the middle of the night.

Arrest papers released today show this isn't the first time Tamara Bennett has been investigated for failing to supervise her children.

The three year old boy was found wandering alone in the parking lot of Cafe Shisha - right off busy West Tennessee Street - at one o'clock in the morning back on June 3rd.

"This is a tiny kid. He could have disappeared. Nobody would ever find him," said Olga Garmash as she stood in the parking lot there.

Now the boy's mother, 33 year old Tamara Bennett, is under arrest for four counts of child neglect.

When police followed the toddler home to the Budget Inn next door, they found three more children inside, asleep. And no adult in sight.

Police believe they were there alone for at least two hours and say the mother's explanation about where she'd been, just didn't add up.

"The mother's story throughout the investigation would change several times," said TPD Spokesman David Northway. "She was going to the store, that was her story. We did confront her with the fact that the store she said she was going to was closed," Northway said.

Northway said the woman claimed to have gone to Publix at the corner of Tennessee and Ocala, but he says that store closed at 11pm.

Northway also said the mother called the hotel room while police were there and told them she was on her way. She said she was walking back from Publix, but Northway says she showed up in a car without any groceries.

The Florida Department of Children and Families will say only it's had "prior dealings" with the family. Yet arrest papers show a DCF investigator told police that Bennett has been accused of inadequately supervising her children at least six times since 1999. The child protection investigator told police none of those accusations could ever be proven,

Tamara Bennett is still in jail with bond set at 10-thousand dollars. The judge ruled she can see her children, but not have custody of them right now.

According to police, the children are now in the care of a family member.

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[UPDATE] 6-10 Tallahassee Police Department Press Release

On June 03, 2011 at approximately 1:04 a.m., the Tallahassee Police Department received a telephone call from a concerned citizen regarding a small child walking on Basin Street with no adult present. Patrol officers responded to the area and located a 3 year old boy walking eastbound on the sidewalk near the intersection of West Tennessee Street and Basin Street. The officers located the child’s address and found three other children inside the residence, all under the age of 12 and all asleep. While officers were on scene, the children’s mother returned to the residence and explained she had left the oldest child in charge but he had fallen asleep.

The Criminal Investigation Division conducted a followed up investigation and obtained warrants for the mother, Tamara Bennett. On June 09, 2011 Bennett was arrested and charged with four (4) counts of Child Neglect Without Great Bodily Harm. A Florida Department of Children and Families investigator was present and made arrangements with a family member to take custody of the children.

Arrested: Tamara M. Bennett B/F 11-08-77

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UPDATED 6.8.2011 6:25pm by Julie Montanaro

A three year old boy found wandering in a parking lot in the middle of the night will remain in his mother's care.

Today we spoke with the woman who discovered the toddler and called 911.

"He was very calm. He was holding a toy that was on a string and he was just kind of playing with the toy."

Jacqueline Viault still can't believe it. She found a three year old boy wandering alone in the parking lot of this bar Friday at 1am.

"It's scary 'cause if I was a bad person or if there was a drunk driver or anything. There's a million things that could have happened to that child and it was really tearing at my heart, 'cause bad stuff could have happened just because somebody wasn't watching him," Viault said.

Luckily for that little boy, Viault immediately asked him if he was lost and called police when she couldn't find his mother. When she asked him how old he was, he held up three little fingers.

"He was wearing a white shirt with green stripes and little jeans and the jeans were all tore up and dirty and the white shirt was a brown color," Viault said.

It turns out the child's mother and siblings were staying about a hundred yards away from Cafe Shisha at the Budget Inn.

"The door was open. We could see that it was open. He walked right in. The police followed him in. There were no adults there. No one to be seen. I don't know if they were in the back or anything, but no one saw any adults to begin with," Viault said.

A spokesperson with the Department of Children and Families says the boy was not removed from his home as a result of this incident. She says DCF has created a safety plan for the child and will be providing services to try to strengthen his family.

Tallahassee Police have not yet decided if the mother will face any criminal charges.

"She needs help to learn how to take care of her child more than to have criminal charges or have the children taken away or anything like that," Viault said.
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UPDATED 6.8.2011 by Julie Montanaro

A three year old boy found wandering in a bar parking lot in the middle of the night will remain in his mother's care.

A Florida Department of Children and Families spokesperson says the toddler was never removed from his home as a result of this incident.

DCF Spokesperson Terri Durdaller says DCF has created a safety plan for the child and will be providing services to try to strengthen his family.

A Tallahassee Police Spokesperson says it is still investigating the incident and has not decided whether the mother will face any criminal charges.
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UPDATED 6-6 By Candace Sweat

On any given night you can find a crowd of co-eds and young adults hanging out at Cafe Shisha, a local cafe and bar. But last Friday (6-3), they had a very young visitor. So young, police had to get involved.

"He did seem comfortable a little bit once he realized we weren't trying to hurt him or anything like that," said witness, Jatereica Brown.

An assistant manager at the bar on Tennessee Street says a woman called police for help after seeing a four-year-old boy walking around outside in the middle of the night. Brown says the woman brought the boy inside and she sat with him until police arrived.

"We got some apple juice and he kind of just told me yes or no questions. I asked him if his mom dropped him off and he said yes, but I think he was kind of confused with the question.Then I asked him if he lived nearby and he said yeah," said Brown.

The boy was able to lead Tallahassee Police to the Budget Inn hotel about 100 yards away, where he was staying with his mother and three siblings.

The child's mother, Tamara Bennett, did no want to go on camera, but disputes the accusations.

Tamara Bennett went on to tell Eyewitness news that her son woke up in the middle of the night looking for her. She says she was outside at the time and that he never wandered over to the bar.

Tallahassee Police are investigating the incident.

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Tallahassee Police are investigating the case of a three year child found wandering outside a local bar in the middle of the night.

A manager at the Shisha Cafe in Tallahassee told us about the incident Friday. Today, we got our hands on a copy of the police report, and we even talked to a witness.

The police report shows TPD is investigating the Thursday night incident. Witness Jaterica Brown says it happened around 1 a.m. She says the little boy seemed frightened as he waited inside the bar for police to arrive. Brown says she gave him apple juice and tried talking to make him feel more comfortable in the bar. She says when police arrived, the child led them back to a hotel about 100 yards away.

The child's mother, 33 year old Tamara Bennett, claims that her son never wandered over to the bar and that no one ever brought him back to her.

Police aren't giving us any other details into what they're calling an open investigation. Witness Jaterica Brown did agree to speak with us on camera. Stay posted for more updates.


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