Carlson, Meissner, Hart & Hayslett, P.A.
By Dominick Tao, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Saturday, May 1, 2010
LARGO — As adult-vs.-teen disputes go, it was not all that extraordinary.
On one side was Theresa Collier, 73, retired homemaker, snowbird from New Hampshire, grandmother of four. On the other, her 18-year-old granddaughter, Felicia Collier.
Theresa wanted Felicia to shape up, finish the final few assignments she needs to graduate from high school and carry out her commitment to join the Navy.
Felicia, by her own account, resisted the pressure by "cursing like a truck driver."
"'F--- you, a------,' that's what she said to me," Theresa Collier said. "Never in my life has anyone talked to me that way."
She slapped Felicia on the cheek.
Felicia went outside and dialed 911, transforming family argument into criminal investigation. And the target was not the recalcitrant, foul-mouthed teenager.
• • •
Two Largo police officers arrived just after 1 p.m. Tuesday. They followed department policy to the letter: In domestic battery cases, the person who initiates the violence gets jailed.
"That is always the call of the officer on the scene. There's a reasonableness level," said Largo police Chief Lester Aradi. "There are many cases when it's unjustified to strike a family member."
The officers drove to a parking lot, where they waited for a van that would take their prisoner to jail. An hour passed. Theresa asked if she could use the bathroom.
"He told me, 'I'm sorry, ma'am, there's nothing I can do,' " she said.
The van arrived, subjecting Collier to a public shaming. A sea of cars in afternoon traffic passed as a sheriff's deputy snapped on latex gloves, strapped a harness around the 125-pound senior's waist, and chained her inside the van.
Felicia lives with her aunt in Massachusetts, but she had been temporarily staying with her disabled mother in Largo, just a quarter-mile from her grandparents' house, as she tried to get her life together.
Kicked out of her private Catholic school up north, Felicia was given a second chance by her principal. She could graduate if she would turn in some outstanding work.
That topic was part of the dispute with her grandmother on Tuesday.
The outcome of her 911 call shocked Felicia.
"I didn't know calling the police would cause my grandmother to be taken to jail," she said. "I thought they would just give her a warning."
But the arrest, Chief Aradi said, was for the young woman's own protection.
"We see recantation all the time in domestic violence cases. Oftentimes, people become more severely injured because people recanted," Aradi said.
Sometime after 2 p.m., Theresa arrived at the jail. She still had to use the toilet. But the toilet was in the open. She cut a deal with another girl in the cell, a tiny 20-year-old who reminded her of her granddaughter.
"I'll turn my back, you go, you turn your back, I'll go," Theresa said.
Hours passed. Jailers took her clothes, her sunglasses, her wedding ring. They gave her gray inmate scrubs, shower shoes, a cup, toothpaste and a wrapped bun to eat around 9 p.m. — more than eight hours after Theresa's last meal.
She couldn't eat it.
Theresa wondered about her husband, Walt. The last time she saw him, Largo police officers were warning him to stay back or else he'd be in cuffs, too.
Around 3 a.m., after her mug shot was snapped, Theresa was transferred to her cell.
The corrections officer told her not to worry. The women she would be with weren't violent criminals. Some of them offered her jailhouse wisdom.
"They said don't cry. Whatever you do, don't cry," Collier said. "Or else the other girls will give you a hard time."
Several asked her a question, and volunteered answers of their own.
"They all come up, and sit right next to you. They ask, 'What are you in for,' " Theresa said. "Just like in the movies."
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, Theresa had her first appearance before a judge, who released her on her own recognizance. It was almost dinner time before she got out of jail.
In the meantime, she played a hand of rummy with her cell mates. She watched the other women during the exercise hour roll up their pant legs and shirts, tanning in the outdoor workout pen.
Lunch was chickpeas, a sausage, bread and a cookie. Theresa nibbled at her plate; other inmates happily grabbed the leftovers.
Mostly, she sat on her bunk, knees tucked into her chest.
Theresa and Walt are supposed to fly back to New Hampshire next week. But that might not be possible.
Theresa's next court date has not yet been set. If she does not appear, a warrant for her arrest would be issued.
Grandmother and granddaughter say the rift between them remains.
They have not spoken since the arrest.
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