Julie Koehler was driving her three girls, 8, 5, and 4, to a bouncy house in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago. She needed coffee, so she pulled up in front of a Starbucks, opened the minivan's windows and even its sliding door to let the air in, and left the kids watching a video. She was gone for three minutes.Everyone, particularly local law enforcement, is sensitive to the hazards of unattended kids in hot cars. But the police officer who checked the kids out evidently couldn't believe that mom had put a video in the player and run into the Starbucks. (I can. Getting quick service at a Starbucks is often a crapshoot. When they ask for a name to put on my order, I've been saying "Claude Rains.")
Thus began her ordeal with the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services.
Koehler, it so happens, is no ordinary mom: She's a public defender in the homicide division, which means she isn't easily intimidated by the police, and she asks a lot of questions. When she asked her kids what the officer had said to them, the 5-year-old said, "He asked where our mother was and I told him you were standing right there in Starbucks."I've long maintained that nail salons, particularly when accompanied by a tanning salon, a tobacconist, and a check cashing service, are markers of Downscale U.S.A. Didn't know that such enterprises were the first place to check for neglectful moms. The authorities are keeping a file on Mrs Koehler, but she's seeking to have a reprimand added to the officer's permanent record.
Had the officer heeded the girl and turned around, he would have seen Koehler waving, she said. Instead, he barged into the nail salon next door and demanded to know if the mother who had "abandoned" her kids was in there. (That's what the manicurist told Koehler afterward.) The answer was, of course, was no, so he returned to grill the kids some more, and that's when they started crying.
After Koehler joined the fray and refused to back down, the officer threatened to have her children taken away.