Albemarle County's top prosecutor Monday withdrew a felony abduction charge against a man who police say picked up a 2-year-old girl at Fashion Square Mall and attempted to walk away with her.
James Kevin Key, 46, was suffering from an epileptic seizure Nov. 24 when he scooped up the toddler as she walked with her parents near a jewelry store, said Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford.
Key declined to comment on the ruling after substitute Judge Sheila Haughey granted Lunsford's motion in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Key released the girl to her father after carrying her 10 to 15 feet, Lunsford said. The prosecutor sought out the advice of Key's doctor and medical experts, who allayed her concerns about the Palmyra man's possible motives for grabbing the child, she said.
Key suffered a complex partial seizure, according to court records. That common form of seizure lasts about three minutes or fewer and can create odd behaviors in a person, who frequently is left confused and with little memory of the event, according to the national Epilepsy Foundation.
Witnesses described Key as dazed and confused, which supports his account of what happened, Lunsford said.
Lunsford asked the judge to grant her access to Key's medical records for the next two years as a condition of the dismissal, saying that she wanted to ensure he continued following medical advice for treatment of his lifelong condition.
"I don't have a concern that he's a threat," Lunsford said. "Everything that I saw in his medical records indicated that he followed virtually all of his doctor's recommendations."
About 4 percent of Americans develop epilepsy at some point in their lives, according to the foundation.
"During a complex partial seizure, a person cannot interact normally with other people, is not in control of his or her movements, speech or actions; doesn't know what he or she is doing; and cannot remember afterwards what happened during the seizure," the foundation's website states.
"Lack of public understanding has led to people with complex partial seizures to be unfairly arrested as drunk or disorderly, accused by others of unlawful activity, indecent exposure or drug abuse — all because of actions produced by seizures," the website states.
The seizures can be brought on by a variety of factors including adjusted levels of medication, stress, lack of sleep and a variety of environmental factors, mostly in combination.
Key is a housekeeping supervisor at the University of Virginia and has worked for the school since 1986, according to university spokesman McGregor McCance.
"In a complex partial seizure, a person may sense they are doing something they normally do, like buttoning the buttons on their blouse, even if they aren't wearing one with buttons at the time," said Suzanne Bischoff, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia, headquartered in Charlottesville. "He may have, in his seizure, been thinking about moving things out of the way like he might move things every day in his job."
The incident was not reported to police for five hours, which drew public criticism of the mall's property owners and private security guards, who police said escorted Key off the property without taking down his information.
Mall customers took to the facility's Facebook page to air their grievances, which were scrubbed from the account after the page was shut down for a brief period.
Bischoff said mall guards basically reacted properly to Key in regard to dealing with someone having a complex partial seizure by recognizing that there was no immediate danger, not overreacting and calming the situation down.
"If there is no smell of alcohol, if there is no direct aggression, if the person seems dazed and confused for a few minutes afterward, there's a very good chance that it was a seizure," Bischoff said. "They did the right thing in how they reacted to him and addressed the immediate situation."
Officials at AlliedBarton, the private firm that provides security at the mall, said in November that they were reviewing procedures and cooperating with the investigation. The company did not immediately return a request for comment.
Authorities arrested Key a week after the incident on the advice of tipsters who recognized him from jewelry store surveillance video. He has been out of jail on bond since Dec. 12.
Abduction is generally a Class 5 felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
Bischoff said she hopes the event will help people better understand seizures.
"These incidents are not very common," Bischoff said, "but what is common is that they are misunderstood and people often overreact to them."