Heather Wallace's oldest son, 8-year-old Aiden, was driving his two brothers crazy in the car as they all returned from karate one afternoon in October 2021. Wallace asked Aiden to walk the rest of the way home—half a mile in quiet, suburban Waco, Texas—so that he could calm down.
For this she was arrested, handcuffed, and thrown in jail.
She was charged with endangering a child, a felony carrying a mandatory minimum of two years in prison.
"It really brought us into deep trauma," says Wallace.
She is finally able to speak out after completing a six-month pretrial diversion program to get the charges dropped. But her arrest remains on the books—easily searchable by employers—which is disastrous for someone with a Bachelor's degree in education.
Here is how the events unfolded.
Aiden agreed to walk home; after all, it was something he had done many times. There are sidewalks the entire way, and practically zero traffic.
But 15 minutes later, two cops knocked on Wallace's door. Her son was in their patrol car. Another officer was parked across the street.
A woman one block away had called the cops to report a boy walking outside alone. That lady had actually asked Aiden where he lived, verified that it was just down the street, and proceeded to call nonetheless. The cops picked up Aiden on his own block.
As they stood on her porch, the officers told Wallace that her son could have been kidnapped and sex trafficked. "'You don't see much sex trafficking where you are, but where I patrol in downtown Waco, we do,'" said one of the cops, according to Wallace.
This statement struck her as odd.
"They were basically admitting that this is a safe neighborhood," she says.
The officer then asked Wallace whether she would let her son walk home again, now that she knew about the sex trafficking.
"I still didn't know it was illegal and I said, 'I don't know,'" says Wallace. "That's when the cop replied, 'Okay, I'm going to have to arrest you.'"
He proceeded to do so in front of the kids, handcuffing Wallace behind her back.
By this point, the cops had allowed Aiden to get out of their car and called Wallace's husband, who arrived at home. Then they put Wallace in the cruiser. She didn't have her shoes on, but the cops told her the jail would provide a pair. It didn't.
In the backseat, still handcuffed, Wallace was interviewed by a case worker with Texas Child Protective Services. All in all, it was about three hours from the time the cops showed up to the time—around 8:30 p.m.—that they drove Wallace to the McLennan County Jail, where she was locked up.
"I'm a suburban mom—I didn't know what I was doing," says Wallace. "I got booked at 4:00 a.m."
The next day, Wallace's husband paid her $300 bail and they went home. When Aiden heard his mom come in, he looked up, panic stricken. "I ate your piece of cake!" he confessed. "I didn't know you were ever coming home."
Child services had the family agree to a safety plan, which meant Wallace and her husband could not be alone with their kids for even a second. Their mothers—the children's grandmothers—had to visit and trade off overnight stays in order to guarantee the parents were constantly supervised. After two weeks, child services closed Wallace's case, finding the complaint was unfounded.
Wallace believes this could be due to the Reasonable Childhood Independence law that Texas passed in 2021 with the help of Let Grow, the non-profit I co-founded. It's part of HB567, a larger child welfare reform bill, and clarifies that parents are allowed to let their kids engage in independent activities as long as they aren't putting them in serious, likely danger.
"I'm encouraged to see CPS follow the law the legislature enacted to protect parents from government interference when they make reasonable parenting decisions," says Andrew Brown, associate vice president of policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which worked on the bill.
Unfortunately, HB567 amended only family law, not criminal law. This meant the cops were still free to punish Wallace.
She obtained a lawyer, who told her that if she admitted guilt, she could participate in a pretrial diversion program that would close the case. On the other hand, if she went to trial and lost, she faced a minimum of two years behind bars and a maximum of 20. So she took the plea deal.
Her diversion program required 65 hours of community service, which Wallace completed at an early childhood center. The program mandated that she only work there during the weekends, when there were no kids around for her to endanger. She helped develop the center's curriculum and also did some cleaning.
Meanwhile, she was forced to resign from the pediatric sleep consulting business where she worked, for the same reason: child endangerment charges. There went half the family's income. She found work at a cookie store instead.
To comply with the program, Wallace also had to take a parenting class and eight random drug tests. Ironically, that meant she sometimes had to leave the kids by themselves for an hour.
"We couldn't afford a babysitter," she says.
At the lab, Wallace had to pull down her pants and underwear in front of a supervisor. "Then I'd pee into a cup while they're watching."
Wallace's sister has started a GoFundMe for her. She is in debt after losing her job and paying for the lawyer and the diversion program. She also hopes to hire a lawyer to get her record expunged so that she can work with kids again.
But in her pretrial essay, which required her to admit guilt and remorse, Wallace thanked the officers for teaching her how wrong she was to have her son walk half a mile on a warm day in his own neighborhood. From now on, Wallace wrote, "I will continue to grow more as a parent and a person."