Kids left in hot car cases: Some caretakers charged, some not

Legal analyst: Comes down to state attorney

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

When Orange County Sheriff's deputies were called to an Avalon Park pediatrician's office late last month, they said they collected enough evidence – witness statements, 911 calls – to recommend child neglect charges for Ottilie Jeetan.

Deputies said Jeetan left her 2-month-old daughter inside her minivan for almost an hour while she took her 9-year-old into the doctor's office. While she was inside the office, Jeetan suddenly remembered the baby, ran out to the van, rescued her, and brought her inside for treatment.

The baby had a fever of 101.6 and was extremely red in the face, according to deputies, but survived and is now healthy.

Within days, the Sheriff's Office said it has handed over its investigative packet to the Orange/Osceola State Attorney's Office.

But nearly three weeks later, Ottilie Jeetan has not been charged with a crime, while every other parent or caretaker who left a child in a hot car in Central Florida over the past several months was charged with a crime, usually some form of child neglect among other charges.

Jeetan's father told Local 6 exclusively that his daughter did not commit a crime.

"All the whole staff in there knew she forgot the baby because she ran out and said 'oh my gosh,' run out and got her, all checked her out really quick and the baby was just fine," said Dave Gardener, Jeetan's father. "If it was case of leaving the baby in there on purpose, by all means. That's just straight up neglect ... my daughter knows better than that, all of us know better than that."

Local 6 legal analyst Luis Calderon says a state attorney must consider all of those factors.

"The standard for these kinds of cases it has to be more than mere negligence," said Luis Calderon. "It has to be some form of reckless, some form of disregard, that rises to a level of criminal or culpable negligence, which is more than regular negligence."

Calderon said a state attorney must consider if charging the caretaker, possibly resulting in prison time, will do more harm than allowing the child to stay with the caretaker.

"Possibly having criminal charges that could result in incarceration," said Calderon. "What interest is that going to serve for these children? How's she going to take care of them and take them to the doctor at that point?"

"What they're evaluating is the danger, the harm to the children, and the future danger to the children," said Calderon.

Gardener said after the incident in July, the Florida Department of Children and Families visited the family's home and determined Jeetan's five children, including the infant, were not in danger. Gardener said DCF recommended closing the case.

"They recommended there be no further action on it, just maybe some parenting classes which is what she already signed up for," said Gardener.

A state attorney must also consider if prosecuting a case will ultimately result in a conviction, or if the jury will be swayed by sympathy.

Currently the Orange/Osceola State Attorney's Office is reviewing the Sheriff's Office's investigative packet and has not announced a decision in the Jeetan case.

Local 6 asked State Attorney Jeff Ashton for comment but a spokesperson said he was unavailable on Wednesday to speak on camera or provide a statement. She added that no one else within the State Attorney's office wanted to comment.

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