HOUSTON (CN) - Police falsely arrested a mother for "child endangerment" after a neighbor reported that she had abandoned her children by letting them ride scooters in the street, the mom claims in court.
Tammy Cooper sued her neighbor Shelley Fuller, the city of La Porte Police Department and one unidentified officer, in Federal Court.
La Porte is a city of 33,000 near the Houston Ship Channel in Harris County.
In her complaint, Cooper says she lives on a "quiet, suburban cul de sac" and "often allows her 6- and 9-year-old children to ride their scooters on the street while she watches from a chair in the driveway or through the large windows on the front of her house."
"On the day of her arrest, Cooper's children were playing on their scooters in the cul de sac when her neighbor, defendant Shelley Fuller, called the City of La Porte Police Department to report that Cooper had 'abandoned' her children," the complaint states.
Cooper says she told the responding La Porte policeman that she had been home the whole time.
"Unknown Officer went across the street to talk with defendant Fuller. It was at this point that Fuller reported, for the first time, that she had struck one of Cooper's children with her vehicle as they played in the street," the complaint states. "Unknown Officer returned to Cooper's home, and after another conversation with Unknown Officer, Cooper was placed under arrest for the felony offenses of child endangerment and child abandonment.
"Never at any point were any of Cooper's children hit by a car as they played in the street. Moreover, Cooper was observing her children the entire time they were outside on the date of her arrest and thus could not plausibly have abandoned them. Despite the fact that Fuller alleged she had hit one of the children with her vehicle, no medical response was called for or needed as it was obvious that neither child had been hit by a car or was hurt in any way. Interestingly, Fuller was never confronted about her lie regarding striking the child with the car. Instead, Cooper, the victim of an angry neighbor, was arrested and charged with a crime in a public and embarrassing manner."
Cooper says her children witnessed her arrest and pleaded with the officer not to take her to jail, an experience made worse by the fact that their father was away in Austin on military duty.
"Cooper agreed to cooperate with Unknown Officer and asked Unknown Officer if he could cuff her hands in the front, as she has a history of neck, back, and shoulder problems and her arms cannot be place behind her back without extreme pain," Cooper says in the complaint. "Unknown Officer ignored her request, and handcuffed her hands incredibly tightly behind her back, so tight in fact that the handcuffs cut into the skin on her wrists."
Cooper says the arrest re-aggravated her health problems, and she might need back surgery.
"Cooper spent 18 hours in custody. Cooper spent over $7,000 in court and legal fees before the unsubstantiated felony charges against her were dismissed," the complaint states. "The incident also led to an investigation by Child Protective Services, requiring Cooper to take her children to the CPS office in Houston.
"Her children were separated from her and interrogated by child abuse investigators. CPS found no cause for concern regarding the well being of Cooper's children and dropped the investigation."
Cooper seeks damages from La Porte Police Department and its officer for false arrest, and from Fuller for defamation.
She reserves the right to seek punitive damages from Fuller and the policeman.
She is represented by Ryan Gertz, with Gertz Adair, of Beaumont, Texas.