Guilty plea from caregiver who left tot in Encinitas store

A Carlsbad caregiver who authorities said abandoned a 2-year-old boy in an Encinitas craft store last fall pleaded guilty March 20 to a charge of child endangerment.

Desirae Harris, 42, changed her plea during a pre-trial proceeding in Vista Superior Court.

Deputy District Attorney Justine Santiago said that, under a plea deal, she will not oppose a sentence of formal probation and the possibility of some custody time for Harris.

Harris — whose attorney has previously said she has “a history of mental health issues” — is set to be sentenced May 8.

About noon on Nov. 16, the child was found wandering alone in a Michael’s store in Encinitas. Eventually, deputies turned to the public for help identifying and locating the boy’s parents.

The parents were reunited with boy hours later, and Harris, his caregiver, was arrested.

On March 20, Harris’ defense attorney Jay Finnecy issued a statement that his client “is deeply remorseful.”

“Ms. Harris was eager to accept responsibility for her conduct and to save (the boy’s) family from any further anxiety over the case.” Finnecy said.

He said his client never intended to harm the boy and that she is thankful that he was well-cared for by store employees and authorities after he was found.

Following his client’s arraignment last December, Finnecy said Harris had not set out to abandon the toddler. Rather, he said, he thought that it was an oversight when Harris left the store, and then “panic set in.”

The attorney said last year that his client has “a history of mental health issues.” He did not specify his client’s diagnosis.

According to her attorney, Harris was a longtime caregiver, and had worked for the boy’s family for several months.

She had been hospitalized for two weeks, then returned to working for the family a few weeks after her release. The incident happened on her first day back to work.

Finnecy said last fall that he was told that the family was aware of Harris’ hospitalization.

When the boy was found in the store on North El Camino Real, deputies searched it and surrounding businesses to find his parents.

Authorities also made loudspeaker announcements during a helicopter flyover of surrounding neighborhoods.

Deputies found success after they released the child’s photo to media outlets and asked for the public’s help to figure out who his family was.

-Teri Figueroa is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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