Had it not been for 15-year-old Lavinia Evon, a baby may have been left alone on a front porch in City Subdivision with her mother sitting next to her, passed out. Evon took little Marybeth Ulroan home with her to keep her warm. This happened after the police were called and had judged Marybeth's mother, Jerilyn Ulroan, to be capable of taking care of her.
According to the Bethel police department’s service logs, Corporal Eric Pavil arrived at the scene quickly, around 2:30 a.m. on June 19, 2017. But he determined that Ulroan was able to care for herself, and he left her and her child sitting where he found them.
The situation didn’t feel right to Evon, the person who called the police in the first place, so she went back to the house to check on Marybeth after the officer had left and found Ulroan passed out.
When Jerilyn Ulroan woke up and found her baby missing she called the police, launching a multi-agency search and rescue operation throughout City Sub neighborhood. It ended happily, when police began knocking on doors and Evon handed them Marybeth, but the situation raised a serious question: why did Officer Pavil think that Marybeth wasn’t in danger when Evon first called the police?
“I can’t say that I would have handled this any differently,” said Bethel Police Sergeant Amy Davis in a recent interview. She described Pavil’s decision that night as an “honest, legitimate mistake.”
Both Davis and Sergeant Kadri Limani reviewed the video from Corporal Pavil’s interaction with Ulroan. The department plans to review its practices following the incident, but Davis says that the department has a procedure for handling intoxicated people with children in their care and that Corporal Pavil followed it.
“It isn’t illegal to drink and have a child with you,” said Davis. “You have to use your best judgment.”
When Bethel Police Officers get a call about an intoxicated individual, they need to determine whether that person is a danger to themselves or others. According to Davis and Limani, officers look for a number of signs.
“Bloodshot watery eyes is a big one there,” said Davis. “If they're that intoxicated, you're going to smell it.”
Sometimes they talk to the individual to see if they can hold a conversation. Other times they ask them to walk in a straight line. Bethel PD also has portable breathalyzers, but people have the right to refuse taking that test. If the intoxicated person is passed out, officers test whether or not they need emergency assistance by hitting pressure points behind the person's ears, or rubbing their sternum to see if they are responsive.
In the case of Jerilyn Ulroan, Limani and Davis both concluded that Ulroan appeared sober enough to care for herself in her interaction with Corporal Pavil. Davis said that Ulroan could hold a conversation. She told Pavil that she was locked out and waiting for her cousin to get home, and became argumentative when he offered to take her somewhere for further assistance.
“She was together enough not only to talk to him, but to actually get up and knock on the door,” said Davis of Ulroan. “I mean, you could tell she had been drinking, but she was definitely able to care for herself and her child.”
Not everyone agrees with Davis’ assessment. Christie Lawton, the Director of the state Office of Children's Services, said that she found Ulroan’s behavior with Pavil to be worrisome - particularly in light of Lavinia Evon’s interactions with her.
“I guess it’s really hard to say,” Lawton said in an interview. “I think it is interesting that a 15-year-old was concerned enough and seemed to feel confident enough that she on her own initiative decided to go back to check. That’s interesting to me, if that’s true.”
Determining whether an intoxicated person is a danger to themselves or others becomes more urgent if that person is a parent. When a parent is too intoxicated to care for their children, Davis says that the department makes an effort to get a hold of a child’s sober family members. They then send a report of the incident to OCS.
Following the incident with Ulroan, Davis says that Bethel PD is reviewing their practices around intoxicated parents. They may plan to be more proactive in connecting with OCS going forward. According to Lawton, that’s always a good idea.
“There’s room for improvement,” she said. “Whether that’s mostly on OCS’ end or BPD’s, I really couldn’t say."
“But with two organizations who are as strapped and crisis driven as those two are,” she added, “there’s always room for improvement.”
Regardless of any changes in their relationship with OCS going forward, both Davis and Sergeant Limani stressed that they want to keep children both safe and with their families as much as possible.
“I see these calls differently,” said Limani in an interview. “I have a 2-year-old and it's a totally different feeling than two years ago.”
“You put yourself in their shoes,” he said, describing the intoxicated parents who he’s interacted with. “What if this was my child? The last thing we want to do is take children away. That's why we try to find family members first.”