Heather Wallace’s eldest son Aiden, eight, was driving his two brothers crazy in the car as they all returned from karate one afternoon in October 2021. Wallace asked Aiden to walk the rest of the way home – half a mile in the quiet, suburban Waco, Texas, so he can calm down.
For this, she was arrested, handcuffed and thrown into prison.
She was charged with child endangerment, a felony that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison.
“It really brought us into deep trauma,” Wallace says.
She is finally able to speak out after completing a six-month diversion program to have the charges dropped. But his arrest remains on the books – easily searchable by employers – which is disastrous for someone with a bachelor’s degree in education.
Here is how events unfolded.
Aiden agreed to walk home; after all, it was something he had done many times. There are sidewalks the whole way and hardly any traffic.
But 15 minutes later, two cops knocked on Wallace’s door. His son was in their patrol car. Another officer was parked across the street.
A woman a block away had called the cops to report a boy walking alone outside. This lady had actually asked Aiden where he lived, verified that it was just down the street, and called nonetheless. The cops arrested Aiden in his own neighborhood.
As they stood on his porch, officers told Wallace that his son could have been kidnapped and sex-trafficked. “‘You don’t see a lot of sex trafficking where you are, but where I patrol downtown Waco, we do,'” one of the cops said, according to Wallace.
This statement struck him as odd.
“They were basically admitting it was a safe neighborhood,” she says.
The officer then asked Wallace if she would let her son walk home, now that she knew about the sex trafficking.
“I still didn’t know it was illegal and I said, ‘I don’t know,'” Wallace said. “That’s when the cop said, ‘Okay, I’m going to have to arrest you. “”
He continued to do so in front of the children, handcuffing Wallace behind his back.
At this point, the cops had cleared Aiden out of their car and called Wallace’s husband, who had arrived at the house. Then they put Wallace in the cruiser. She didn’t have her shoes, but the cops told her the prison would provide a pair. This was not the case.
In the backseat, still handcuffed, Wallace was interviewed by a Texas Child Protective Services social worker. All in all, it was about three hours from the time the cops showed up until the time — around 8:30 p.m. — they drove Wallace to the McLennan County Jail, where she was locked up.
“I’m a suburban mom, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Wallace says. “I was booked at 4:00 am”
The next day, Wallace’s husband posted her $300 bail and they returned home. When Aiden heard his mother come in, he looked up in panic. “I ate your piece of cake!” he confessed. “I didn’t know you were coming home one day.”
Child Services got the family to agree to a safety plan, which meant Wallace and her husband could not be alone with their children for even a second. Their mothers – the children’s grandmothers – had to visit and swap nights to ensure the parents were constantly watched. After two weeks, Child Services closed Wallace’s case, finding the complaint unfounded.
Wallace thinks it might be due to the Reasonable Childhood Independence Act that Texas passed in 2021 with the help of Let Grow, the nonprofit I co-founded. It’s part of HB567, a broader child protection reform bill, and clarifies that parents are allowed to let their children engage in independent activities as long as it doesn’t endanger them. serious and likely.
“I am encouraged to see CPS following the law the Legislature enacted to protect parents from government interference when making reasonable parenting decisions,” said Andrew Brown, associate vice president of policy at Texas Public. Policy Foundation, which worked on the bill.
Unfortunately, HB567 only changed family law, not criminal law. This meant the cops were always free to punish Wallace.
She got a lawyer, who told her that if she admitted her guilt, she could attend a pretrial diversion program that would close the case. On the other hand, if she went to trial and lost, she risked a minimum of two years behind bars and a maximum of 20. So she accepted the plea deal.
His diversion program required 65 hours of community service, which Wallace completed at an early childhood center. The schedule required that she only work there on weekends, when there were no children to endanger. She helped develop the center’s curriculum and also did some cleaning.
Meanwhile, she was forced to resign from the pediatric sleep counseling firm where she worked, for the same reason: child endangerment charges. There went half of the family’s income. She found work at a cookie store instead.
To comply with the program, Wallace also had to complete a parenting course and eight random drug tests. Ironically, that meant she sometimes had to leave the kids alone for an hour.
“We couldn’t afford a babysitter,” she says.
At the lab, Wallace had to pull down his pants and underwear in front of a supervisor. “So I’ll pee in a cup while they watch.”
Wallace’s sister started a GoFundMe for her. She is in debt after losing her job and paying for the lawyer and the diversion program. She also hopes to hire a lawyer to clear her criminal record so she can work with children again.
But in her pre-trial essay, which forced her to admit guilt and remorse, Wallace thanked officers for teaching her how wrong she was to walk her son half a mile on a hot day in her own neighborhood. From now on, Wallace wrote, “I will continue to grow more as a parent and as a person.”