LARGO — Before last week, 73-year-old Theresa Collier, grandmother of four, retired homemaker from New Hampshire, had no criminal record.
But on Wednesday, after slapping her 18-year-old granddaughter for "cursing like a trucker" and calling her names unfit to print in this newspaper, Collier was arrested and spent more than 24 hours in jail on domestic violence charges.
While Largo police call it a case of battery and stand by the arrest, dozens of residents have spoken out in defense of the grandmother and questioned the department's zero-tolerance policy.
"If a grandmother can't smack her belligerent granddaughter on the cheek, God save the world," said Largo resident Robert Moore, 77. "I just don't get this, today's take on things. People aren't allowed to discipline their kids?"
The issue struck a nerve with many Times readers, who wrote or phoned in their frustration.
Largo resident Corinth Hudgins, 37, said her grandmother struck her once for mouthing off when she was a girl, and she's better off today for it.
"My grandmother raised me. When I was 16, I thought I was woman enough to call her the 'b' word. She hit me so hard I had to pull myself back up," Hudgins said. "I think the way society is now, sometimes they go overboard with being politically correct."
Some even disagreed with how Felicia Collier described the language she was hurling at her grandmother as "cursing like a truck driver."
"We love our mothers. We respect them," said Tampa truck driver Gregorio Navarro.
The Wednesday afternoon fight began when Theresa Collier and her husband, Walt Collier, 72, were pressuring their granddaughter to finish homework assignments so she could receive her high school diploma.
But after their granddaughter began shouting profanities, Theresa Collier walked over to her progeny and slapped her across the cheek. The snowbird said her granddaughter then hit her in the face and grabbed her wrists. Walt had to separate them.
The teenager stormed outside and dialed 911.
Largo Police Lt. Mike Loux said the department stands by the judgment call of Michael Kirkpatrick, the arresting officer in the case — and that Collier's arrest was warranted, even though Felicia Collier asked officers not to arrest her grandmother at the scene.
"It's a routine arrest. We have a mandatory arrest policy for domestic violence," Loux said. "Our default is if we have probable cause that domestic battery occurred, we will arrest the instigator. It was clear that the lady committed the battery."
Loux said the policy is in place because in many cases of domestic violence, the victim will recant the story when police arrive and the violence continues.
But Loux said an officer can make an exception to the mandatory arrest policy with a supervisor's approval. Loux said Kirkpatrick did not seek an exception.
If the younger Collier had been a minor at the time of the fight, however, the outcome may have been different.
Felicia Collier, who was suspended from her private Catholic high school in Massachusetts this year for bad behavior, turned 18 on April 14, two weeks before the fight. Diane Collier, her aunt, along with her grandparents, were appointed as legal guardians when the girl was 8. The teen's mother is disabled, and her father, deceased.
Loux said he couldn't say whether Collier would have gone to jail for attempting to punish an unruly granddaughter with a slap if she were underage.
"It's not a subjective line. If it's in excess, or it causes major injury, whether or not it's corporal punishment, you can go to jail for that. I can't give you a ball in cup answer to that," Loux said.
Eric Reisinger, a former assistant state attorney who is now in private practice in Sarasota, said if Collier's case isn't dismissed outright, she has several arguments that could work in her favor if the case goes to trial.
"The girl being 18, that could be a gray area. But if she was acting in a parental capacity, you have an argument there," Reisinger said.
Collier, who is leaving for her home in New Hampshire this week, said she is worried that she might need to return to Florida to face prosecution if she is charged.
It could take several weeks for the case to be dropped, or picked up by a state attorney.
Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or firstname.lastname@example.org