By Dominick Tao, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Carlson, Meissner, Hart & Hayslett, P.A.
LARGO — On Monday night, Theresa Collier went to bed with a cloud hanging over her head: the possibility of prosecution for slapping her granddaughter after the teenager spewed profanities at her in an argument over unfinished homework.
But by Tuesday evening, after a shock jock and a well-known lawyer intervened, the 73-year-old grandmother of four was free to return to her summer home in New Hampshire this week.
According to filings with the Pinellas clerk of courts, the domestic battery charge against Collier has been dropped.
The story that has struck nerves around Tampa Bay and sparked debate over parents' rights to discipline their children was nudged toward this conclusion after Tampa-based radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge Clem connected Collier with lawyer Kevin Hayslett, who has represented such high-profile clients as former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Dwight Smith and Nick Bollea, the son of retired pro wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Hayslett moved the state attorney's office to drop the charges in a more expedient manner than it may have otherwise done.
"This is not a close call," Hayslett said. "If this were 30 years ago, we would not be having this conversation."
Collier was arrested for the slap on April 27, when she went to pick up her granddaughter, Felicia Collier, 18, from the house of the teen's disabled mother in Largo. The elder Collier and her husband, Walt Collier, 72, were pressuring their granddaughter to get her life back on track after being kicked out of a private high school in Massachusetts for cursing at a nun when the profanities, and spontaneous slap, occurred.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said that after reviewing the report, his office realized that there was no prosecutable case against Collier.
"We got the police report in. It wasn't much to look at. Cooler heads prevail once people realize what the situation is," Bartlett said. "I'm sure if I said such things to my grandmother, I'd get more than a slap in the face."
While Bartlett said his office wouldn't likely have gone forward with a prosecution, the media scrutiny it received brought attention to it, and moved it along.
Clem, a well-known and at times controversial radio host, caught wind of the grandmother's arrest last week, and called the teen out for her disrespect on the air Monday morning.
Felicia Collier, 18, called him Tuesday. The spontaneous call-in turned into a 30-minute segment that played out like an episode of the Dr. Phil show, with the radio host pressing Collier to apologize, and culminated with the grandmother joining via phone.
During the segment, Clem told the teenager what he thought of her behavior — and said later that he only wanted her to apologize.
"Now … do the right thing for your poor grandma," he said on air to the teen. "Stop being bull-headed and stop being the Felicia that everybody thinks you are and do the right thing."
When Felicia Collier's grandmother came on air after she was called by producers, the teen offered an apology, of sorts.
"I still don't know how it all went that wrong. I do think it's wrong that they arrested you. I wish you didn't have to go through that. I do love you," Collier said.
The grandmother didn't seem moved.
"It didn't sound very apologetic," she said.
They did agree on air to try to mend their shaken family ties.
Clem offered to connect the family with local psychologist Joe Saturley for counseling — which they accepted.
Clem said while he has a reputation as a "big bad wolf," people in situations like Theresa Collier's move him to offer a helping hand.
"When I saw grandma on TV, it just about killed me. I felt really sorry for her," Clem said. "This ending is an example of people caring in the community, of people doing the right thing — from attorneys, to doctors, to the media, to the prosecutors who dropped the charges."
Diane Collier, aunt of Felicia Collier, who has helped care for her niece since the girl was 8, said her mother, Theresa Collier, was relieved to hear of the dropped charges. She said she hopes her niece continues to work with her principal — who has offered her an extension to mail her remaining work and receive a diploma.
"Her guidance counselor said yeah, we just need her to send us her work," Collier said. "We just want to get her to graduate. This is sort of a big wakeup call."
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