Juneau parents Andrea Parent and Joshua Allen Jones admit it was a “lapse of judgment” on their part to leave their two young children alone in the car at the Fred Meyer parking lot Friday night as they shopped for some last-minute camping supplies.
But what happened next, they said, wasn’t right. Police issued them a citation because, unbeknownst to them, officers removed the children from their car after receiving a call from a “concerned citizen,” and in process, discovered a pipe with marijuana in it.
Under Alaska law, leaving your child unattended in a vehicle isn’t illegal. Leaving your child unattended in a vehicle containing pot or any other controlled substance is illegal.
Parent, 22, and Jones, 29, were charged with endangering the welfare of a child in the second degree.
Although the citation is just a “minor offense” violation — akin to a speeding ticket — the couple plans to fight it in court. Not only were their children never in danger, they said, the police search was illegal and their kids were traumatized.
“My youngest was screaming for me,” Parent said, describing the scene when she found her kids in the back of a police car. “To me, that was absolutely traumatizing for them to put them in a car like that. They will remember that for the rest of their lives. That is not OK, and they were perfectly OK in my car.”
“It was like 7 at night, it was chilly and the window was cracked,” Parent stressed in an interview. “My kids were not in danger whatsoever.”
The police department, meanwhile, stands by the officers’ response and says they did nothing wrong.
“What the officer did, it sounds perfectly fine,” said Lt. David Campbell, a spokesman for the Juneau Police Department.
He added that people shouldn’t leave their kids locked in cars or expose them to controlled substances.
The case began when JPD received a call from a 19-year-old woman, whom police described as concerned citizen, on Friday evening. The woman reported that an infant had been locked in a vehicle with sealed windows for the past 20 minutes. She provided officers the location of the car, its description and license plate. That was the last of her contact with police.
Two officers rushed to the scene and took the two children — 5-year-old Dreydin James Parent and 2 1/2-year-old Joshua Allen James Jr. — out of the red GMC Jimmy and placed them in the back of a squad car. One of the officers then went inside the store and paged their parents.
In the citation, Officer Sterling Salisbury wrote that the kids were in the vehicle for “50 minutes” and that he found the children “crying, screaming and trying to get out of the car” — claims the parents vigorously dispute.
Campbell said in an interview that police arrived at the 50-minute figure because they included the 20 minutes that the caller reported already having passed. JPD received the initial call at 8:24 p.m., and officers arrived on scene 11 minutes later and had the children out of the car by at about 8:35 p.m., he said.
Officers then paged the Office of Children’s Services to see if they had contact information for the children’s parents — they did not. By that time, a second officer had arrived on scene and went to page the parents inside Fred Meyer. By the time they contacted Parent and Jones, it was 8:48 p.m., Campbell said.
Parent said “there is no possible way” they were in the store that long away from their children.
“We were in there for 20 minutes, if that,” she said.
It turned out that the windows to the car were not rolled up, as the 911 caller had reported. Campbell said the officer found the windows cracked about a third of the way down. In fact, the officer reached through the window to unlock the car and get the kids out, Campbell confirmed.
Parent said police had no such right. She said they searched her car afterward and took her wallet out of her purse as they searched for her identification. She said they should have waited for her to get back to the car.
“He had no right to stick his arm in my car and unlock the doors and start looting through my stuff,” Parent said.
From a police perspective, the public safety aspect and concern for the children justified opening the car’s doors to get the children out, Campbell said. He noted both police officers who responded are parents themselves and acted accordingly.
“The natural reaction is to calm the kids and see if they’re OK,” Campbell said. “It would be pretty heartless to let the kids continue to freak out. What the officer did, it sounds perfectly fine.”
The only reason the kids were crying was because the police officer came up to their vehicle, asked the kids questions, unbuckled their seatbelts, took them out of the car and left them in the back of a squad car, Parent countered.
When asked if Officer Salisbury — who was on leave and not available to comment — thought the children were in danger or threatened in any way, Campbell responded, “I can’t tell what the officer was thinking.” He added that if an officer sees a child screaming and crying, “you have to be able to have compassion and make sure the kids are OK. I think opening up the car door and talk with them and comfort them would be an appropriate action.”
As for the vehicle search, Campbell said the wallet was in plain view, as was the marijuana. Looking at pictures of the scene, Campbell said it appears there was a multi-colored marijuana pipe with green leaves inside on the mini-console organizer between the two front seats.
“There is like an open aftermarket organizer with two cup holders, an open area to stack compact discs — so no closure on it — a place for coins and things like that, and on the very top is a marijuana pipe,” he said.
He said the leafy substance field-tested positive for THC.
Parent and Jones say they do not smoke pot in front of their kids, and that’s the only drug they use. They had planned on smoking it during their camping trip after the kids had gone to bed.
“There’s a lot of people in Juneau that smoke pot, and that’s all we do,” Parent said. “It’s not like my kids have any part in it.”
Parent added that the pipe was not in plain view — she said it was stashed underneath the dashboard.
“It wasn’t visible,” she insisted.
Jones called into question the reliability of the so-described concerned citizen who reported the incident to police. He speculated the caller was actually a jilted person from his past who was out for revenge. Jones said he and Parent ran into the woman in the parking lot on their way into the Fred Meyer, and she said to Jones, “You can’t say hi to me when you’re with her?” an apparent reference to his fiance, Parent.
Jones speculated the 19-year-old then called police with an exaggerated report to be vindictive.
The Office of Children’s Services now has an open case against the parents and has conducted a home inspection. Both parents expressed dismay over that, as well as the potential for “child endangerment” being on their record.
“I don’t want that on my record,” Jones said.
Both parents have one or two misdemeanors for thefts in years past, although that’s as far as their criminal records go. Parent said they have had one prior contact with OCS.
OCS Division Director Christy Lawton told the Empire in an email exchange that no Alaska state law sets a minimum age for a child to be left alone in a vehicle. She said OCS recommends parents assess their child’s maturity, age and abilities before leaving them in a car (or a home) alone.
“It’s a child-by-child decision every parent must make based on their child’s individual needs and abilities, whether that’s a short grocery store stop or an after-school supervisory issue,” she said.
Parent and Jones are scheduled to be arraigned in Juneau District Court later this month. They do not yet have an attorney.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.