Julie Koehler was taking her three daughters, ages 4, 5, and 8, to a party in Evanston, IL when she decided to make a quick stop at Starbucks. It was 70 degrees in Chicago, and she lowered the windows of her minivan and opened the sliding side door. And then, as Reason.com reports, in the three minutes it took her to buy coffee, a cop came to investigate the situation and scared her young daughters to tears.
Koehler, a public defender, dashed back to the minivan and brusquely asked the cop to explain what was going on. As she explained to Reason.com, he yelled back at her, demanded to see her ID, and accused her of child abuse. The officer told Koehler that he could take her children from her, at which point she called her husband and mother and asked them to come get her. The cop gave her back her ID and she thought that was the end of it, until an agent from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) showed up at her home two days later.
In an interview with Reason.com, Koehler explained:
"Despite my telling her [the] facts, my children becoming hysterical when she questioned them about the police officer, and my offering to provide witnesses (the two Starbucks employees who were totally shocked at the situation)...she faxed a report to my pediatrician's office requiring my children to undergo a physical examination."
Koehler was also questioned about her mental health and whether or not she was taking any medication, and asked to provide two references, who were also questioned about her mental health. A month later, she got a letter from the DCFS saying that the report was "unfounded," but that they'd be keeping a copy of the report for one to three years. Koehler has since filed a request that the DCFS be classified as an "intentional false report," writing, "As you are most undoubtedly aware, there is no specific law indicating that it is unlawful to leave your child unattended in a vehicle."
It seems like overkill that a police officer, who presumably has seen the bad side of humanity, would accuse a clearly responsible mother of abusing her children. True, she left her kids alone in the car momentarily, but they were never even out of her sight line. Had he just turned around and looked into Starbucks, he would have seen her waving. Perhaps if she hadn't been confrontational with the officer, he wouldn't have reacted so harshly. But that still doesn't justify asking her about her mental health. Koehler explained:
That is so far beyond the scope of an appropriate question from a legal standpoint. I have to get court orders and waivers signed to get medical information regarding a client. And as a mother, what a scary question!
It certainly is. While it's a good thing cops are concerned about kids left alone in cars on a hot July day, this is one situation that got much more out of control than it needed to be.