DA: Foster father was using marijuana when baby left in car

08/01/2014 2:05 PM

08/08/2014 2:35 PM

The foster father charged with first-degree murder in the death of a 10-month-old girl who was left in a hot car had consumed marijuana earlier that day and went into the home to use more when he left her, District Attorney Marc Bennett said Friday.

Prosecutors think Seth Jackson was getting high during the 2 1/2 hours that the baby remained in the car on July 24, Bennett said.

John Stang, one of Jackson’s defense attorneys, said questions remain, among them: Was his client impaired at all? And if he was, was Jackson impaired at the time the child was supposed to be taken out of the car?

“I don’t know the answer to those questions,” he said.

The baby’s maternal biological grandmother, Cindy Poe, said the prosecutor’s disclosure of the drug allegation “explains everything now.” Before, the 47-year-old Topeka-area woman said she had wondered how Jackson could have forgotten to get the child out of the car after bringing her home from a baby sitter.

She said she had viewed Jackson as a loving foster father and never thought he might be suspected of using drugs, especially around children in his care, she said.

Through tears, she said, “How can he be smoking (drugs) with my baby in the car? Why would he ever do that?”

The prosecutor’s disclosure of alleged drug use came at a court hearing Friday afternoon in which Jackson’s attorneys were seeking to modify his bond.

In response to the disclosure, Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, issued the following statement.

“Should the allegations prove to be true, I am appalled that a precious, helpless child suffered such an unthinkable death while her foster parent was allegedly using drugs. We expect parents to protect and care for their children. We expect even more of our foster parents. They have a duty to put the children in their care before themselves always and provide a loving, safe environment.

“This incident is a rare exception to the otherwise strong record of foster care safety in Kansas.”

The last foster care maltreatment death was in 2006, her statement said.

“Drug use is not tolerated among our foster parents,” she said.

Gilmore said the DCF continues its investigation into the baby’s death. Foster homes sponsored by TFI, the subcontractor involved with the Jackson home, are in the process of being inspected, Gilmore said.

“Presently, no serious concerns have been discovered,” she said, adding that the DCF expects to end the moratorium on placements with TFI soon, “upon the completion of the inspections if no issues arise.”

TFI sponsors 621 foster homes in Kansas, she said. Gilmore said TFI was a former foster care contractor whose contract with the DCF was not renewed in 2013. It serves as a subcontractor of foster care services to Saint Francis Community Services and KVC Health Systems.

In court Friday, in giving some background for how prosecutors have approached the case and the bond, Bennett said that on the day of the child’s death, Jackson allegedly had been using marijuana in the morning and ran out of the drug.

Bennett also gave the following timeline.

Jackson had been transporting a 5-year-old, went to a drug dealer’s house, got more of the drug, picked up the 10-month-old from a baby sitter, returned home and went into his house in the 1500 block of South Topeka to consume more marijuana. The 5-year-old got out of the car, but the 10-month-old remained in the vehicle.

Stang, the defense attorney, said he and the other defense attorney, Leslie Hulnick, heard the marijuana allegations for the first time in court Friday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Bennett’s office charged Jackson, 29, with first-degree murder. The charge alleges the girl’s death occurred within the commission of an inherently dangerous felony, according to the criminal complaint filed against him.

The underlying crime alleged is aggravated endangerment of a child. The endangerment allegation means recklessly causing or permitting a child to be in a situation where his or her life is in danger, Bennett said Wednesday.

Also Friday, Judge Dave Dahl approved an agreement between Bennett and the defense attorneys to modify the conditions of Jackson’s $250,000 bond. The modification means basically that Jackson would have to pay less to a bondsman, perhaps $5,000 instead of $25,000, to get out of jail. If Jackson is released and doesn’t show up in court, he would ultimately be liable for the full $250,000.

Stang said he expected Jackson to be released Friday night.

Dahl also ruled that on or before Thursday, he would decide whether to release an affidavit that might provide more information about the allegations. The document, known as a probable cause affidavit, requires authorities to provide enough information justifying the charges. Neither the prosecutors nor the defense attorneys objected to the release of the full contents of the document.

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