Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Sign of the Times

Does anyone else find this story ridiculous?

Back during last year's holiday shopping season, a mother of three named Treffly Coyne decided to encourage her two oldest daughters to collect coins for the Salvation Army bellringer drive. Together, the girls collected around $8 in change, and one night, their mother decided to take them to the neighborhood WalMart, not to shop, but just to drop their collected coins off in the kettle. She brought a camera, too, to take a photo of the girls making their donation. I guess she was proud.

The night she drove her daughters to Walmart to drop off their coins, it was sleeting outside. Coyne's youngest daughter, aged two at the time, was asleep in her carseat. When the family arrived at the Walmart parking lot, she made a decision that I think many, many mothers may have made under the same circumstances.

Rather than wake her sleeping toddler up to take her out into the sleet, she parked as close as she could to the Salvation Army bellringer. And then she took her two oldest daughters out quickly in the sleet to let them make the donation and snap a quick photo, and left her two-year-old, still strapped into her car seat, sleeping in the car.

Coyne locked the car and turned on the alarm before taking her older children across the sidewalk to make their donation. The whole errand took less than ten minutes. Coyne was never more than ten yards away from her car.

And yet, when she returned to the car, a police officer barred her from entering the vehicle. She was handcuffed in the parking lot and confined in a squad car. According to Coyne, the police took her youngest daughter into protective custody but left the two older daughters, aged eight and nine, alone in the Walmart parking lot.

Coyne is now on trial for child endangerment and obstruction of justice.

Now, I don't personally condone leaving children unattended in cars. I have never personally left my own son alone in the car, even for such a short errand. But, I just don't think leaving a sleeping child in a car for less than ten minutes while you are just a few steps away is an offense worth arresting someone over. I just don't. I mean, the car was within the mother's sight at all times. The woman did not even go into the store.

Back in the days before ubiquitious debit cards and Pay-at-the-Pump machines, when drivers actually had to go IN to gas stations to pay for gas, my parents used to leave my sister and me alone in the car for a few minutes all the time at the gas station, while they went INSIDE the establishment to pay, and I am sure this is true of most people in my generation. A lot of us, too, were left in the car for a minute or two at the corner store while an adult ran in to grab a package of diapers or a gallon of milk.

Should all of our parents have been arrested?

I understand that rising carjacking rates, and the general campaign to raise awareness about children's safety issues, have changed the social landscape since then. And so I do also understand why some people were upset that Ms. Coyne left her baby in the car, even though she only did so for a few minutes, and she could see the car at all times.

But I think the appropriate response, if officials thought a response was warranted, would have been to issue her a stern warning and leave it at that. I believe it's an almost criminal waste of time and effort for the system prosecute frivolous cases like these, when children are returned every day to homes where there has been documented evidence of serious abuse. And I think that dragging this well-intentioned mother's name and reputation through the mud will hurt her daughters far, far more than a few minutes alone in a safe car seat, in a safely locked car, ten yards away from their mother ever could.


Debbie said...

god, Jae, you should SO be writing for MOMocrats.

at least.

although, in fact, I'd rather see you writing a blog that was under your own moniker, that drew loads of traffic, because you're so brilliant.

like, um, hey! *this* is a blog like that!

(I know, I know - you're too busy to promote it properly. I understand. I'm still allowed to be frustrated, though, right?)

p.s. that woman's story made me so sad and so offended/stressed out by our obvious police state.


Awesome Mom said...

That is just awful! I have parked at the bank and left the kids in the car while I get cash from the ATM (not in the summer, but at other much cooler times) and I could see the car the whole time. It is just horrible that this poor woman is getting harassed for this. Are we to be scared to even let our kids play in another room in our home? Who knows what coudl happen in that other room?

Jaelithe said...

That's similar to what my husband said when he read this. He said, "Are parents not allowed to leave a kid in the living room while they go to the bathroom now?"

Jaelithe said...

P.S. I would totally write for MOMocrats if they wanted me to, but I feel much too intimidated by the general famousness of the regular writers there to ask.

Farrell said...

well said!

Anonymous said...

What about the endangerment to the older kids being left alone in the Wal-Mart parking lot???

Stupid. People have no common sense anymore.

Anonymous said...

Treffly Coyne is a fine mother who happened to be out on an excursion planned by her children to donate to charity. A lesson we would all do better to be taught by her kids. Unfortunately the government, very concerned about the welfare of her child stepped in. Somehow the officer saw that a sleeping two year old in a warm and safe locked car with the alarm activated would be better off without the mother who cares for her.

The police would not listen to her story, they refused to listen to witnesses, they did not investigate by going into the store to look at the security video.

Instead, they arrested Treffly Coyne, took custody of her two year old child, broke up her family, and most disturbing, the police abandoned three little girls at the Walmart… left them to their own luck, crying on the curb.

All because the government decided Treffly Coynes family needed its “protection.”

Her children were never in any danger until the representatives of the government showed up.

The police chief of Crestwood, Timothy Sulikowski, knew that there was no evidence that Ms. Coyne had done anything wrong, yet he still decided she needed to be charged and prosecuted.


For 97 days she was labled a child abuser by the state, investigated by the DCFS or CPS, paid expensive legal bills and suffered the public humiliation brought on by the unsubstantiated charges of the Crestwood Police.

Even when the prosecutor dropped the charges for lack of evidence, the police chief and Mayor Robert Stranczek continued to make public statements against Treffly Coyne.

Treffly Coyne is now suing the Village of Crestwood, police officers James Ciukaj, Forrest Wondolowski and Angel Brudnicki in federal court.

She would have preferred to have won in criminal court.

All she asked for was an apology and that the charges would be dropped. Thousands of dollars later, and hundreds of thousands of posts on the internet, the Crestwood Police cannot even give her that.

A terrible mistake was made that night at the Walmart and the Crestwood Police and Mayor Stranczek refuse to acknowlege it. Until they do, all citizens, all families in Crestwood are in danger of these kinds of police abuse.

Her fight is not over. The federal Judge will hear the case and has the power to direct the Crestwood Police to make changes in their policies and procedures.

Hopefully she will prevail in her fight, which is a fight for all of our civil rights and her case will create stronger boundaries between the family and the police.

It was wrong to arrest that mother and subject her children to witness in terror the actions of the police.

What is more wrong is that the woman has to fight such wrongdoing in federal court.

A victory for Treffly Coyne will be a victory for all American Families. The civil rights she is fighting for our your civil rights as well.