FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Tanya McDowell, the 34-year-old Bridgeport woman who gained national attention last year after being arrested for enrolling her 5-year-old son in a Norwalk school, was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday in Bridgeport Superior Court for selling drugs.
McDowell was given five years of a possible 12-year sentence and five years’ probation for possession and intention to sell drugs. The sentence was imposed by Superior Court Judge Frank Iannotti under a plea deal worked out by McDowell's attorney, Darnel Crosland.
Crosland said McDowell, who claimed she was homeless when she was arrested for theft in the education case, pleaded guilty in Norwalk last month to first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny for illegally enrolling her son in the Norwalk public school system.
“The five years-mandatory minimum sentence is part of the Draconian Rockefeller drug laws that need to be repealed,” Crosland said Tuesday after sentencing. “If it wasn’t for those laws, she [McDowell] could earn time for good behavior and for taking classes in prison and would be facing much shorter time [behind bars].”
McDowell pleaded guilty under the terms of the Alford Doctrine, in which she acknowledged that the state had sufficient evidence to convict her. “Pleading was not an admission of guilt," Crosland said.
The drug charges stemmed from undercover investigations in Norwalk and Bridgeport that began after her arrest in the school larceny case.
If McDowell had gone to trial in the larceny case, she would have faced a much longer sentence than 12 years for the drug offenses, Crosland said.
McDowell said during sentencing Tuesday that she will continue to fight for access to equal education, Crosland said.
“She stood in front of the judge and said she will keep up the fight for the right of all to have equal access to quality schools and education,” Crosland said. “She still believes strongly in the right to a quality education for all children and will not let the issue die while in prison.”
McDowell was arrested in April 2011 after she enrolled her son in Brookside Elementary School using a friend's Roodner Court address. The case attracted national attention and eventually brought Rev. Al Sharpton to a political rally here. After McDowell was arrested again in June on multiple drug charges, most of the media attention evaporated.
Crosland said McDowell’s son, now 6, is living with his client’s mother and attending a school in Bridgeport.