A mother who was cleared of child endangerment charges in 2007 after leaving her toddler locked in her car is now suing the city for false arrest. A trial is set for Aug. 9.
Attorneys from both sides agree on this much: In March 2006, Tatiana Krivenko accidentally locked her toddler son Victor in her car in the parking lot of Mountain View's Costco. It was about 66 degrees outside. She went to find her husband inside the store to get him to walk home and get a spare key.
But before that happened, a passer-by called the Mountain View Fire Department to the scene. Firefighters determined that the child was in "distress" and broke the car's window. The child was unharmed.
Police arrived as well, and soon after Krivenko was arrested by Officer Chris Goff on charges of child endangerment. Goff and firefighter John Miguel are named as defendants in the case.
Krivenko's attorney, M. Jeffery Kallis, described the arrest as a "false arrest" because police should have been aware that her actions did not show a "willful" act of indifference to constitute child endangerment.
"This is really just about protecting rights," Kallis said. "She is really upset, depressed and scared by what happened to her. It shouldn't have happened."
But city attorney Michael Martello said the case is a "waste of time" that might be thrown out before it goes to trial.
"In this case the Fire Department did exactly what anybody would want the Fire Department to do," Martello said. "They aren't going to say, 'That piece of glass could cost $115, let's see how long the kid can survive.'"
Krivenko says police "shouldn't have arrested me," Martello said. "But the district attorney must have believed in the case" in order to prosecute it. Krivenko was acquitted in a criminal trial in 2007.
Kallis admits that Krivenko had consciously chosen to leave Victor in the car prior to locking him in. He said that to appease her older 3-year-old child, who wanted to go into the store with her husband, Krivenko left Victor asleep in the backseat for a "one-minute absence."
When she returned she accidentally locked Victor in the car, sometime after which the toddler woke up and began crying.
"Most parents, the first thing they would do is they are going to break the window," Martello said. "The people standing around were a little astounded that she didn't want the child out of the car faster than she did."
But Kallis said that as a recent immigrant from Russia with "spotty" English, Krivenko "Didn't know about American public services."
"Ms. Krivenko thought it was going to be a very expensive thing," to call police for help, he said.
Kallis said Miguel was named as a defendant because he "instigated the whole arrest," which was really an "attitude adjustment arrest." Kallis believes Miguel thought, "I don't like your attitude" and "went into the store to investigate Ms. Krivenko," he said.
"He clearly had an intent to get an action going and the officer went along with it. He didn't like Ms. Krivenko."
Kallis said Krivenko is suing the city for damages, which include about $12,000 in attorney's fees and an amount for emotional suffering to be determined by a jury. He said the Police Department is also being asked to better train its police officers for such situations.