TAMPA ― The attorney for Tabatha Long denies the criminal allegations that her 9-year-old son drowned after the mother, drunk and high, carried him into Bullfrog Creek this summer even though he couldn’t swim.
Her son, Bentley, died on July 31. Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies arrested the 28-year-old mother on a charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child on Sept. 26.
Her attorney Brandon Stein held a news conference on Wednesday to defend the mother. The past two months have been a nightmare that she cannot awake from, he said. She denies all the allegations against her.
“Naturally, she was shocked," he said. "She did not expect these charges.”
The mother, who was freed from the Hillsborough County jail after posting $15,000 bail, did not attend.
Stein denied that she was using alcohol and marijuana when her son died. The attorney also challenged the events laid out by Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister at a news conference last week announcing the mother’s arrest. The attorney said his firm’s investigation contradicts several statements made by the sheriff.
The July 31 incident took place near Whispering Waters Way in Gibsonton. After her son’s death, the Sheriff’s Office said the mother told investigators she was swimming with the child’s uncle in the water when the 9-year-old left the shallow water and followed her deeper into the creek against her wishes. Then he disappeared underwater.
Sheriff’s divers found him about 30 minutes later, and he was pronounced dead at a hospital. Deputies said the mother told them afterward that her son was not a strong swimmer.
But last week, investigators said the mother’s story wasn’t true.
Instead, the Sheriff’s Office now says that tests show Long was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana when she carried the boy on her back into the creek. A witness said she didn’t even notice when the 9-year-old fell off her back. They also said they later learned that the boy could not swim at all.
A blood sample taken from Long several hours after the drowning revealed that the mother’s blood-alcohol content was 0.07, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Florida law presumes impairment at 0.08 or greater. Toxicology results also showed she had marijuana in her system, the sheriff said.
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“This is certainly an incident where a mother who’s responsible for protecting her child was too impaired to make a healthy decision,” Chronister said on Sept. 26. “This child is dead because of a choice his mother made.”
But the mother’s attorney fired back on Wednesday. Stein said Bentley could swim, and denied the sheriff’s inference that the mother was familiar with Bullfrog Creek and its dangers. She did not frequent the creek, the attorney said.
“She was not aware of the tumultuous conditions that Bullfrog Creek had,” Stein said. “Had she known, of course she would not have entered. Of course she would not have voluntarily put her child at risk or anyone else at risk for that matter including herself.”
Stein also questioned why the toxicology report took two months to come back, though blood samples typically take time to be tested.
The attorney declined to make further comment about the allegations against his client. He said the sheriff’s case is largely based on witness testimony, but he has not yet received those transcripts or other files from prosecutors.
“This case is in its infancy,” said Stein, who arranged for TV crews to meet him outside a nearby law office. "It’s very important to have all the facts come out, all the evidence come out (and) not have this be a case tried in the media or tried in the court of public opinion.”