Tonight the NAACP got into the act, funding legal representation for homeless mom Tonya McDowell, who was charged with grand larceny for the offense of lying about her address on a school form application to send her five -year old son to kindergarten in Norwalk. They retained Attorney Darnell Crossland, who was introduced to the press as the next Johnny Cochran. With all due respect to the late Johnny Cochran, he will be best remembered as the guy who got off OJ Simpson, guilty as sin of the double murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. Not sure you want to make that comparison at the outset, if your claim is that Ms. McDowell has been treated unjustly.
The NAACP asserted that Ms. McDowell had been strip searched upon her arrest, and that the officer in charge was instructed to ” search her like they do in Niantic.” Reportedly, the officer objected, but was told to do it anyway, and complied. Much hullballoo ensued, rightly so. A strip search for a parent who lied about a school district? Sounded rather zealous to me, and to many others. Chief of Police Harry Rilling reviewed the videotape and invited Ms. McDowell’s attorney to see it as well. Conclusion? No cavity search, no real “strip search”. Did Ms. McDowell lie or were her statements manipulated by others? At this point, we don’t know.
The NAACP also disclosed that Ms. McDowell was questioned by narcotics officers while being charged with this crime, hinting that another agenda was at work by the Police Department, and that they might have been trying to solicit information about drug use in the area. On these facts, the attorney and the NAACP were vague. Mayor Moccia said on The Lisa Wexler Show that McDowell was charged with selling narcotics within limits of a school. More than that, we don’t know yet.
Also disclosed was the fact that the Norwalk prosecutor, Suzanne Mieux, is Mayor Dick Moccia’s stepdaughter. I didn’t know that. If so, that might explain Mayor Moccia’s resistance to dropping this case altogether. He really should. As more facts come out, it becomes clearer that this woman was singled out for some reason, that she really is homeless, and that the system has utterly failed the little boy.
I asked Attorney Crosland if this case was about getting the case against McDowell dismissed, or about making the case that all children should be able to go to whatever school they want , regardless of their residence. He said that his first duty was to his client, of course, but that there was also a movement to allow residences of grandparents to count as well as parents. Crosland agreed with this movement.
Incidentally, Mayor Moccia said that the boy was now attending school in Bridgeport because he was living with his grandmother. Ms. McDowell contradicted that- she said in fact that they were staying with friends in Bridgeport, not relatives. The family appears to be truly homeless. Why won’t Mayor Moccia step up to try and make this case disappear? If 20 other parents per year try the same thing, and their only punishment is disenrollment, then why make an example of this poor woman? She needs help, not jail.
Crosland stressed that he thought much of this was about tight budgets, about cities trying to save money in tough times. I don’t agree. Ms. McDowell got caught in the wrong bureaucracy. A lie to the Housing Authority was not merely a lie on a school application form. The Housing Authority has legal staff, and they have duties to report falsehoods when they see them. Once reported to the prosecutor, the issue of judgment arose. Therein lies the crux. This particular prosecutor chose to go ahead and prosecute this case. Perhaps if she had done more research about similar incidents in the past, she would have handled it differently. She might simply have brought it to the school’s attention and a due process hearing would have begun, instead of a criminal prosecution. Now Ms. Mieux’s back is up against the wall. Politicians like Sen. Larry Cafero are supporting her. She is probably listening only to the people who tell her she is right. That is what happens sometimes in life.
Ms. Mieux, I write this to you. Hear your inner voice and drop the case. You are going down a road you can’t win. Homeless parents don’t deserve incarceration, they deserve a hand up.