A jury will be asked to decide next week if a San Diego County nurse committed a crime or just an act of poor judgment when she left her 3-year-old child in a car to visit a restroom and shop.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the trial of Myngan Thi Le, a 32-year-old Escondido woman who faces one misdemeanor count of cruelty to a child by endangering her health.
According to her defense attorney, Brian White, Le began to feel sick as she drove with her 3-year-old girl on Jan. 14. She decided to stop at the Westfield North County Mall for a bathroom break and left her daughter in her car seat.
However, the Macy’s restroom was closed, White said, so Le spent the next 30 to 45 minutes shopping until it reopened.
When she returned to her parked car at about 2 p.m., she found police had smashed the window and recovered her child from inside.
Escondido police said they found Le’s daughter crying and soaked in sweat with red, flushed skin. The girl had an “extremely elevated pulse,” officers said.
White argues that the girl’s crying and elevated heart rate were due to strangers looking into the car and shattering the window.
“It’s almost as if the responders, even though they meant well, but under the circumstances, they probably caused more harm to the child to put her in that situation,” said White, though he added harm was probably overstating the matter.
While the temperature that day was 72 degrees, temperatures in the car were “significantly higher,” police said.
White told NBC 7 Thursday that his client exercised bad parental judgment but does not deserve prosecution. "The child was not harmed at all; she was fine,” he said. “She was back in custody with the parents that night.”
According to White, Child Protective Services came to Le’s house the following day to look around and do interviews. The officials told Le, “You guys are great parents; you have nothing to worry about. Case closed,” White said.
The attorney believes this case is about hype surrounding the issue of leaving kid or pets in cars, not an actual criminal act, he said.
“Not every parental mistake in judgment is a crime,” White told NBC 7. “If you've been a parent, you've made a mistake in judgment, and that's just part of being a parent.”
White confirmed Le currently works as a nurse in the obstetrics unit of Kaiser Permanente.
Her employer sent NBC 7 the following statement Thursday:
“Kaiser Permanente is aware of recent allegations against an employee. The charges against this individual are unrelated to her work at Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser Permanente does not speak to personnel issues, and cannot comment publicly due to privacy laws."
Le faces six months in jail if convicted of child cruelty.
Thursday evening, NBC 7 asked shoppers if they agreed with White in his defense.
"Probably bad parenting in a way, but a crime? No," said Dean Antibus.
Dee Moyes disagreed: "It is a crime to leave your child in a car unattended."