CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Former Cleveland Law Director Subodh Chandra and city prosecutors acted aggressively to protect Ohio's children with their legal tactics in 2003 and 2004. They went after a boozer who put a two-year-old outdoors in sub-freezing cold after a post-Thanksgiving drinking bout. The child suffered no injuries from chill and snow, but the case still concluded with a guilty verdict of child endangerment. A state appeals court said a critical issue was: Does knowingly exposing a child to extreme weather conditions create a substantial risk to health and safety?
It sided with Chandra: Extreme weather is a risk.
The efforts to seek a conviction in Cleveland are in contrast with Clermont County Prosecutor Don White's decision not to take action in the death of Cecilia Slaby. The two-year-old perished Aug. 23 while strapped into her mother's Mercedes on a blazing summer day. White's office says the mother, a school administrator, accidentally forgot about the child and didn't heedlessly disregard a known risk. The risk: Extreme temperature in a vehicle parked outdoors in the August heat.
The complete text of the 12-page decision from Cleveland is available(PDF) from the Ohio Supreme Court. Chandra's team argued that the presence of severe weather automatically creates a strong possibility of harm to a child. It also contended the man locked the door when he kicked the two-year-old out into the cold with her mother, which created a "culpable mental state" required for conviction. The 8th District Ohio Court of Appeals agreed:
"Exposure to extreme temperatures for a relatively extended period of time creates a substantial risk to the health or safety of a child. A rational trier of fact could have found that sub-freezing temperatures created a substantial risk to the health or safety of the child despite the fact that she was with her mother, and despite the fact that she was wearing a coat . . .
"The snow and low temperatures that night gave (the defendant) good reason for expectation or belief that the two-year-old child could suffer from exposure. Moreover, based on evidence that the mother and child were forced out, a rational trier of fact could reasonably conclude that (the defendant) perversely disregarded, with heedless indifference to the consequences, the known risk that the two-year-old could suffer from exposure."
Mom and daughter walked about eight blocks that night in Cleveland to a pay phone, where they dialed 911 and were rescued by police. There was no frostbite or medical damage, although the little girl urinated in the pajamas she wore under her winter coat. The conviction for child endangering led to a $150 fine, a suspended 90-day jail sentence and a year of probation with substance abuse assessment and counseling.