Donald Shields may not be in the running for father of the year, but I'm not sure he should be sitting in jail either.
Shields allegedly grabbed an 11-year-old who was said to have been in a fight with his son, threw him in his car and drove around for a couple of minutes, yelling at him not to mess with his boy. He took the kid back to school, with no apparent injuries but "visibly afraid," according to police reports.
The Northeast Baltimore man, though, was arrested on charges of kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault, and is still being held without bond, more than a week later.
As you might imagine, there are conflicting reports on the incident — whether Shields' son, who is 8, had been the victim of bullying as his family says, or if this was just a scuffle between some kids.
But I'd like to think Shields is guilty of nothing more than standing up for his son and giving the other kid a good talking-to.
Does that even happen anymore? Do figures of authority — basically, the nearest adult — just set kids straight anymore in no uncertain terms? Do they put the fear of God put in them?
That seemed to be how it worked when I was a kid, at least when something flared up in the presence of a grown-up. That's why this story has touched such a nerve and lit up the talk radio lines — more commonly these days, it's the lack of parental or adult involvement rather than too much of it that's the problem. Think of how often there's a school shooting and classmates say the shooter had been bullied, yet there's no sign that any parent or teacher or other authority had intervened or even been aware of the problem.
Here instead, it seemed, was a livid father, the schoolyard avenger that surely every picked-on kid dreams will show up at the right moment to set things straight.
We don't know at this point, of course what actually happened that day at Yorkwood Elementary School. Maybe this wasn't a case of a righteous father taking on a bully, but some out-of-control guy who grabbed a kid off the street. If he'd just given him that talking-to on the street, you have to think, he might not be sitting in jail right now.
I was unsuccessful reaching the 11-year-old's family, but his mother, in an interview with WJZ, denied that her son was a bully and said that being driven around by Shields frightened him to the point that he's now scared to walk home from school.
The school police report says that Shields had been told of an "incident" involving his son, and, rather than come inside to discuss it, sped away angrily. After nearly striking the 11-year-old with his car, the report said, Shields got out, forced the boy into the vehicle and cursed at him before taking him back to the school.
Shields' wife, Tia Drakes, gives a different account: She says Shields was picking up their kids at Yorkwood when he saw three boys "banking," or attacking, their 8-year-old son, Donald Shields Jr., who ended up bleeding from a "busted" mouth. Shields honked his horn and the kids scattered before he was able to intervene, Drakes said. After no one at the school could identify the boys who had jumped their son, her husband started driving Donald Jr. and his two siblings home, she said.
On the way, Donald Jr. saw one of the boys and pointed him out to his father, who stopped and asked the kid to get in the car because he was taking him back to school, Drakes said. Her husband and kids all deny that Shields Senior cursed at the boy or kept him locked in the car, she said. At the school, a teacher thanked him and said the school would get to the bottom of the incident, Drakes said.
Drakes said she spent several days trying to talk to school officials about the altercation and was asked to come to a meeting with the boy and his parent. She said that when the boy's parent didn't show up, the two boys were taken into a room without her and asked to sign a no-fighting contract. Her son refused to sign it because he wouldn't be able to defend himself against bullies, Drakes said.
Rob Johnson, Shields' lawyer, said he is hoping to get the charges reduced so that his client at least will be given bail.
Drakes still wants to meet with the parents of the boy and the other two who allegedly attacked her son. "I do understand children will be children," she said.
Which is why, after all, we have adults.
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