Shopping mom strikes a deal in child-neglect case - East Valley Tribune: News

Shopping mom strikes a deal in child-neglect case

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Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2007 10:30 pm | Updated: 7:40 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The woman accused of child neglect for leaving her toddler in the car at a valet stand while she shopped with her dog at Scottsdale Fashion Square won’t do any jail time.

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Gardenia Zakrzewski-Johansson, 40, of Scottsdale, struck a plea deal with Scottsdale city prosecutors late last month.

The former Montessori school teacher pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of child neglect and has been placed on one year’s probation.

Zakrzewski-Johansson will be fined $478, must attend a parenting class and comply with state Child Protective Services requirements, Scottsdale City Prosecutor Caron Close said on Tuesday.

She faced up to six months in jail.

The details of her agreement with CPS were not available on Tuesday, but Zakrzewski-Johansson’s attorney, Caroline Aeed, said the woman complied with CPS’ requirements and that an investigation into the case is now closed.

A valet who was working at Fashion Square on Tuesday shook his head in disbelief at the outcome of the case and said she should have faced a harsher penalty.

“You’re jokin’ me,” said the valet, who requested anonymity.

The valet had two years experience with the company involved in the Dec. 11 incident, but was not working when Zakrzewski-Johansson was arrested.

“That’s ridiculous. Very rarely do people leave dogs in the car. It’s pretty neglectful behavior to leave your kid in the car,” he said. “I just think that it’s pretty amazing and that the (plea bargain) seems a little on the light side. It just seems like neurotic behavior, but I don’t see that there’s any real punishment for neurotic behavior.”

As part of Zakrzewski-Johansson’s plea agreement, a second count of child neglect was dismissed.

The incident at the Neiman Marcus parking garage at the mall made national headlines.

Two days after Scottsdale police arrested Zakrzewski-Johansson, at least three employees of Hodson Jewelry in north Scottsdale came forward, telling police the same woman a week earlier asked them to watch her two-year-old son in the car while she went to Starbucks with her white Shih Tzu.

Zakrzewski-Johansson could not be reached for comment.

Aeed would not further comment on the case or the plea agreement, but her former law partner, Jason Keller, said he disagreed with the guilty plea and said he didn’t believe she was guilty of child neglect according to the law.

Keller represented Zakrzewski-Johansson at the beginning of the case, but said he did not represent her since he and Aeed dissolved their partnership about a month ago.

Keller also said he believed the case received too much media attention.

“It was absurd,” Keller said. “It put the family through hell. She’s not a celebrity, she’s not a public figure or somebody that deserves that kind of attention. It was unconscionable.”

As the toddler slept inside a baby seat in the back of his mother’s 2002 black BMW sedan, Zakrzewski-Johansson shopped inside Neiman-Marcus for about a half-hour for cosmetics and a Christmas present.

One of two on-duty valets called security after noticing the boy sleeping in the car, and identified her to police when she came out with a shopping bag and her dog.

After she was arrested and handcuffed, she asked the officer to retrieve a Christmas present that was being gift-wrapped in the store.

Close would not say whether Zakrzewski-Johansson was remorseful about asking strangers to watch her child, but said, “If she violates her probation, she could go to jail.”

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