A month ago today, an Indiana couple were each sentenced for an incident that took place in early March at a fast food restaurant that involved their two young children and some powerful heroin.
Robert Paul Palmer, 37, and Tamica Lynn Jeffers, 33, were visiting a Cincinnati, Ohio McDonald’s with their two children, a 5-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy. While the children played in the designated play area, the parents succumbed to what must have been some pretty potent heroin. McDonald’s employees as well as other parents in the restaurant at the time noticed that something was wrong and called 911.
Hamilton County court records show that the Green Township Fire Department, which is just west of Cincinnati, received the call that there were two adults needing medical attention in the restaurant’s children’s play area. Emergency responders found Palmer to be unconscious and not breathing. Jeffers was described as being conscious but also unresponsive.
Both Jeffers and Palmer recovered from what police describes as “life-threatening overdoses” of heroin. Authorities say the couple admitted to taking drugs while caring for their two children. The couple was arrested in Ohio on child endangering charges due to their actions.
According to the court documents, each parent pleaded not guilty to the charges. Initially, Palmer’s bail was set at $10,000 and Jeffers was held on $6,000 bond.
On March 24th, the Indiana mother, Tamica Lynn Jeffers, appeared before a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge. Judge Fanon Rucker handed down the conviction to Jeffers: two counts of child endangerment. She was sentenced to six months of jail time, with 90 days suspended and was given credit for 44 days served. Her boyfriend and the father of the children involved, Robert Paul Palmer, received a similar punishment.
Prosecutors said that Palmer, while in court, showed little appreciation for the seriousness of his actions. Because he will get credit for the time he has already served since his arrest, he has a little less than five months left of his jail sentence. It is not known if he had the last half of his sentence suspended like Jeffers did.
Despite what the prosecutors said, Palmer’s attorney, Michael J. Trapp, said that his client hopes to serve his time and then “begin picking up the pieces of his life.” After the sentencing, Trapp said, “My client is very sorry that this happened.”
Although reprehensible, the actions of both Palmer and Jeffers and their subsequent sentencing are an indication of something more than just criminal behavior. These parents obviously suffer from drug addiction, which is recognized by the medical community as a chronic disease. These parents, and others like them are in need of treatment, not jail time. “Treating” drug- and addiction-related crimes with punitive action, that is, seeking justice with a punishment approach, is not going to solve this problem nor will it deter it from happening again.
It’s time we reform our drug laws and that needs to start with accepting the legitimacy of the disease of addiction and shedding its negative stigma. People will continue to fear seeking help as long as they’re being told that they are bad people for being addicts.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.