Bradford R. Fenocchio
PLACER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
10810 Justice Center Drive, Suite 240
Roseville, California 95678
For Immediate Release
Date: January 5, 2010
Public Information Officer
Assistant District Attorney
WOMAN WHO LET HER SPECIAL-NEEDS CHILD WANDER
IS PLACED ON FOUR YEARS PROBATION BY PLACER JUDGE
A 58-year-old Reno woman who endangered her Down Syndrome child by letting him wander away at a Lake Tahoe resort was given credit today for serving 61 days in jail and was placed on four years of probation by a Placer County judge.
The sentence was imposed on Mary Ellen Stamps, who was jailed last month by Superior Court Judge Larry D. Gaddis for failing to keep a court-ordered interview appointment with the Placer County Probation Department.
Prosecutor Estelle Tansey wrote in a document to the court that there have been nine instances in which Stamps’ eight-year-old special-needs child has either wandered away from the family’s home or was allowed to roam away unsupervised while Stamps took him shopping at stores.
The incidents have resulted in searches for the boy by law enforcement personnel or the boy being found by neighbors who could find no identification on him, she wrote.
Despite the multiple incidents, Stamps had failed to take actions that might prevent further instances of the boy becoming lost, Tansey wrote.
On Oct. 13, Stamps was found guilty by a Placer County jury of one count of felony child endangerment following a five-day trial.
The case involved Stamps letting the child walk away as she shopped at the Village at Northstar in Lake Tahoe within Placer County’s boundaries. Stamps searched for the boy and then left the resort in her vehicle to run an errand for several hours.
According to Tansey, Stamps did not call 911 nor did she notify security officials at Northstar that her child was missing. Security officials found the nonverbal, noncommunicative boy running in the underground parking garage and he had no identification on him.
Gaddis today denied a request by Stamps’ attorney to have the felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor, saying he wasn’t comfortable with the defendant’s ability to follow the terms being imposed by the court.
“The flat refusal to go to the probation department was disturbing,” Gaddis said. Last month, Gaddis noted that Stamps had even missed an afternoon of her own court trial.
Also unnerving to Gaddis was Stamps’ statements made today when she raised a concern about being subject to search-and-seizure conditions in her probation and her telling the judge she felt he was trying to put both her and her child “on a leash.”
“You have everything so controlled,” a crying Stamps told Gaddis. “This is your society.”
After attorneys conferred with the judge, Stamps calmed down and said she was willing to comply with the sentencing conditions “to the best of my ability.”
Prosecutor Tansey had urged the judge to impose a six-month county jail sentence and a suspended prison term of four years.
Gaddis did not impose a suspended prison term, instead giving Stamps the 61-day jail term and crediting her with fulfilling it. He noted that the defendant, who has raised seven other children, had missed Christmas by being in jail.
“It’s time for her to get home to her family,” he said.
Tansey said after the sentencing that if Stamps violates probation, the court will have options on a possible punishment. “It can range from local jail time to a maximum of six years in state prison,” she said.
Among other conditions of Stamps’ probation are that she attend a 52-week program dealing with parental duties, attend any treatment program recommended by probation officials and perform 60 hours of community service.
She was ordered to pay various fines, fees and restitution programs in the amount of $1,885.
Stamps’ child remains with her and Gaddis urged the mother to rely heavily on her family for support or on the Placer County Probation Department or its recommended help programs.