Bill Montgomery Offers Deal to Hot-Car Mom, Readies Safety Campaign

A Phoenix woman who left her 2-month-old son in a vehicle for 10 minutes while she shopped for groceries has been offered the chance to take a parenting course rather than face felony prosecution.

Suhaylah Shamsiddeen, 26, has been offered a "prefile diversion option that entails completing a 26-week Child Abuse Diversion Program through Community Health Services," says Jerry Cobb, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. "If she successfully completes the program, charges will not be filed."

Shamsiddeen was arrested on April 27 after someone saw her infant crying in the vehicle, which was in the parking lot of the Whole Foods at Baseline and Rural roads, and called police. A Tempe officer arrived four minutes later, records state.

It was about 1 p.m. on a cloudless, 79-degree day. Shamsiddeen put a blanket over the baby to protect him from the sunlight, left a window open just a bit, and ran into the store to grab some baby formula and a couple of other items.

Looking out the store window while at the cash register, she saw a police officer removing her son from her vehicle. A store surveillance camera showed she was in the store for a total of 10 minutes.

"Since Suhahlay left her 2-month-old infant unattended in her enclosed vehicle (one window cracked open, an unknown amount) on a warm day and vulnerable to anyone, she was arrested for (felony) child abuse," a Tempe officer wrote on the booking sheet.

Her arrest was one of three high-profile hot-car incidents in April. In the other two, Mesa police cited a woman believed to have left her 2-year-old in a hot minivan for about 15 minutes, and 41-year-old James Koryor of Phoenix was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter after his 2-year-old son died in a hot vehicle while he was on a drinking binge.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery drew national attention when he offered a diversion deal to Shanesha Taylor, who was sentenced last month to 18 years' probation for her kids-in-hot-vehicle case. Knowing that a fundraiser for Taylor had raised $114,000, Montgomery told her that if she put $60,000 away in trust funds for her three children and take the 26-week parenting class, she wouldn't be prosecuted. Taylor chose the felony prosecution.

After Taylor's arrest and the handing down of a four-year prison sentence for Daniel Gray, whose kid died in a hot car while he chatted and smoked pot with work buddies, Montgomery launched a new public-safety campaign to bring awareness to the problem.

The "Don't Leave Me Behind!" campaign involves a billboard truck, free sunscreens and TV spots that ran in August and September. An Arizona Republic article by Katie Bieri about the campaign stated that, while the effort "was proposed fairly late this summer, Montgomery promised that the county will reinstate the campaign much earlier next year."

This morning, Cobb tells us that Montgomery plans to kick off this year's program on Thursday.

UPDATE June 4 — As expected, Montgomery announced this year's anti-hot-car campaign. We asked him a couple of questions about it at this morning's news conference at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. 

1) With many of the high-profile hot-car cases happening from March through early June, why start the public-safety campaign in June? 

Montgomery reminded us that some of these cases have occurred in August. However, he acknowledged we might have a point and said the office — which pays for the campaign — may review the hot-car cases and see if the campaign should start earlier.  We think if they're going to do it, it should probably start no later than April. Kids and pets can and have suffered in hot cars even when the outside temperature is somewhat mild.

2) We asked why Shamsiddeen got the same deferred-prosecution offer that Shanesha Taylor received without having to put any money in trust funds for her kid. Montgomery explained, essentially, that the cases were different: Taylor had several kids and two of them were in the car longer than Shamsiddeen's kid. Yet that doesn't fully explain it, because Shamsiddeen also had a criminal record, whereas Taylor didn't at the time of her arrest. Shamsiddeen was convicted of shoplifting and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors, in 2009.

It appears to us that the political and/or publicity factor has to be considered here. Taylor's was a much more high-profile case that had the potential to give Montgomery national attention, which it ended up doing. The demand to put tens of thousands into trust funds for Taylor's kids ended up being Taylor's undoing when she failed to comply. The Shamsiddeen case shows that Taylor's case could have ended much more simply, and without a felony conviction for Taylor, who was sentenced last month to 18 months' probation.

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