HARTFORD, Conn. – A homeless single mother accused of illegally enrolling her son in the wrong school district was behind bars Monday, charged with selling crack cocaine and marijuana to undercover officers near another school in that city.
Tanya McDowell, 33, also faces pending drug sale charges from an arrest last fall, months before she made national headlines when she was charged in April with larceny and stealing education services for her young son.
McDowell was arraigned Monday on the drug sale charges in Superior Court in Norwalk, the same city where she is accused of illegally enrolling her son, now 6, in kindergarten last fall under her baby sitter's address.
She has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree larceny charge in that case, which is pending. McDowell, who is black, has received national attention and support from civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who headlined a rally last week outside the school McDowell's son had attended.
In the new case, police arrested McDowell on Friday on an affidavit charging her with selling crack and marijuana to undercover officers. She was held over the weekend before Monday's court appearance, where a judge set her bond at $200,000.
She remained in jail later Monday over the objections of her attorney, Darnell Crosland, who criticized the bond amount as excessive and said he believes police targeted McDowell because of publicity over the school enrollment arrest.
"To the untrained eye, it strikes me as strange that a task force would be put together to track and/or investigate my client for fighting back against an illegal arrest based on alleged theft of an education for her 6-year-old child," Crosland said in a statement after her arrest Friday.
A message seeking comment after Monday's court appearance was not immediately returned.
Norwalk police Chief Harry Rilling said Monday that although he understands Crosland's desire to aggressively defend his client, the suggestion that McDowell was targeted is false "and quite frankly pretty sad."
"There are no facts that would ever even begin to support that. Moreover, his comments are ridiculous and irresponsible, and I'm offended," said Rilling, whose department had previously been accused of strip-searching McDowell during her arrest on the enrollment case. A video of the booking process disproved the claims.
McDowell is due to return to court July 12 in the enrollment case and the earlier drug sales case, and again July 25 in the new drug sales case.
Prosecutors say McDowell used her baby sitter's address to enroll her son in Norwalk schools in the fall but should have registered the boy in nearby Bridgeport, the location of her last permanent address.
Connecticut students can only attend public schools in the municipality where their parents or guardians reside, unless they go to a magnet school, charter school or another district under a desegregation plan.
McDowell has said she splits her time between a Norwalk shelter and her van, though she also told Norwalk housing authority officials that she occasionally stayed at a Bridgeport apartment and has family in that city. Her attorney has said her son now lives with relatives in Bridgeport and was finishing kindergarten there.
Prosecutors say McDowell was charged with larceny in the case after lying to use the address of the baby sitter and, according to court records, writing on the enrollment affidavit that the baby sitter was her son's legal guardian.
The baby sitter was been evicted from her public housing unit but hasn't been criminally charged.