LOVELAND, Colo. - Mandie Watkins made national news last week when she publicly protested that her 7-year-old son had been suspended for throwing an "imaginary grenade" during recess at Mary Blair Elementary School in Loveland.
Watkins contacted 7NEWS -- and other news outlets -- saying that her second-grader had been unfairly punished for playing a hero in his imaginary good-versus-evil game on the playground.
"He was playing that he was the hero and he was throwing an imaginary grenade into an imaginary box that had evil stuff inside," the mother told 7NEWS reporter Lindsey Sablan.
"Are schools really so afraid of a child harming someone that they don't even allow make-believe anymore? The fear-mongering is out of control," Watkins said.
But when 7NEWS took a harder look at the 30-year-old mother's account of what happened on the playground, we found it may not be true.
7NEWS also found that Watkins has repeatedly appeared at the center of news stories in recent years and she has a lengthy criminal history that raises questions about her credibility.
Thompson School District spokesman Michael Hausmann said the district normally doesn't comment publicly about student discipline. "In this case, however, the parent of the student has chosen to make this a public issue, and because there appears to be a great deal of misinformation in the media about this matter, we feel compelled to respond."
A teacher saw Watkins' son, a second-grader, throwing real rocks at other children on the playground on Feb. 1, Hausmann said in an email. "Following a discussion with the student and his mother, the principal imposed a two-hour in-school suspension as a consequence for the student’s behavior. The student was never removed from school grounds by the district."
7NEWS' Sablan asked Watkins on Friday about her account that her son was throwing an "imaginary grenade," when the district says he threw rocks at other students.
Watkins insisted it was the school principal who said her son "had been suspended for throwing an imaginary grenade."
"There was an imaginary grenade," the mother continued. "He was throwing an imaginary grenade and that's why I (publicly) clarified and said, 'did he have anything in his hand?'"
Sablan asked if district officials are lying about the rock throwing?
"Yes, absolutely," Watkins replied. "It's not true at all."
Yet, Amanda Lorraine Watkins has several criminal convictions -- for attempted arson, theft and forgery -- that cast doubt on her own credibility.
She also has inserted herself at the center of four news stories in the past six years.
In 2009, Watkins claimed the family dog saved her and her children from dying when their Greeley house caught fire as they slept. She said the pooch kept whining and licking Watkins face and pawing her bed to wake her up.
Yet, Watkins was later charged with felony arson and six other counts in the house fire, according to court records. Two counts were for child abuse, because her children were potentially endangered during the fire. The mother and her children were treated at a hospital for possible smoke inhalation.
Ultimately, Watkins pleaded guilty to false reporting/fake crime and the other charges were dismissed. She was sentenced to 153 days in jail, court records said.
This wasn't the first time Watkins faced arson charges.
According to court records, she was arrested on a felony arson charge in 2001 in Larimer County. She pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of attempted arson and was sentenced to 10 days in jail, three years of intensive supervision probation and 120 hours of community service, court records said.
Watkins is currently on eight years probation for a 2009 felony theft conviction. She also has prior convictions for child abuse and forgery, court records state.
Other arrest charges that were dismissed in plea bargains include fraud, identity theft, computer crime/theft and attempting to bribe a public servant.
Then Sablan asked Watkins whether her 12-year criminal history cast doubt on her own credibility and whether people should believe her.
"The only thing I can say about that is I have absolutely done things in my past I'm not proud of," Watkins said. "I'm completely willing to talk about my history and admit I've done things that were dishonest in the past, but that's not what this is about it."
"I did a lot of things that I shouldn't have and I don't think it changes what kind of mother that I am," she said.
The mother vowed to stand her ground on how her son was unfairly disciplined.
"I'm not going to back down on this. My son did not deserve to be suspended," Watkins said.
Here's a synopsis of Amanda Watkins' criminal history:
- May 20, 2011. Watkins was arrested in Loveland on a charge of child abuse/negligently causing bodily injury. She pleaded no contest to child abuse/no injury. A no contest plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea. She was sentenced to 24 months probation and 24 hours of community service.
- Feb. 3, 2010. Watkins is arrested for allegedly setting fire to her home on Sept. 15, 2009. She's charged with felony arson, criminal mischief (property damage); identity theft, theft, 2 counts of misdemeanor child abuse and false reporting/fake crime. Watkins pleaded guilty to false reporting and the other charges are dismissed. She was sentenced to 153 days in jail.
- Aug. 20, 2008. Watkins was arrested by Greeley police on an Arapahoe County case involving charges of theft, computer crime/theft, forgery, fraud and attempting to bribe a public servant. She pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft and the other charges were dismissed. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail and eight years probation.
- Jan. 18, 2004. Watkins was arrested in Larimer County on a felony forgery charge. She pleads guilty and is sentenced to 81 days in jail and three years intensive supervision probation.
- June 12, 2001. Watkins was arrested in Larimer County on a felony arson charge. She pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of attempted arson and was sentenced to 10 days in jail, three years of intensive supervision probation and 120 hours of community service. She was later arrested twice for failing to comply with her probation conditions in 2004 and 2005.