Let’s not torch the witch just yet in the Tucson newscaster cocaine case.

30 Jun 2016 01:00 am
Posted by: Donna

This is something you should not use while pregnant or breastfeeding. Should you be prosecuted for it, though?

A couple in Tuscon who were new parents and also newscasters were arrested recently for being in possession of drugs and because their four month old infant was found to have cocaine in his blood.

Two former local TV personalities have been indicted in Arizona for child abuse after their 4-month-old baby was found with cocaine in its system, authorities tell PEOPLE.

A public information officer for the Oro Valley Police Department says Krystin Rae Lisaius and Somchai P. Lisaius – both news personalities in the Tucson area – were indicted June 9 on three felony charges: possession of a dangerous drug, drug paraphernalia and child abuse…

…Police said they were alerted after the couple brought the baby, who was showing signs of distress and appeared lethargic, to the Oro Valley Hospital on May 15. The couple allegedly refused to allow a blood test on the baby, who was then transferred to Diamond Children’s Center at the Banner University Medical Center in Tucson by ambulance, police said.

At Banner, a urine test was conducted after the parents again allegedly refused a blood test, police said. Toxicology results showed the presence of cocaine.

Krystin, 26, later allegedly admitted to Oro Valley authorities that she ingested cocaine after a party at the couple’s home, police said. She allegedly said she breastfed the child 12 hours later.

A friend identified only as “Thomas” told police that he allegedly watched Krystin “snort” the drug from the home’s master bathroom countertop after the party.

Thomas said he and Somchai, 42, allegedly also used cocaine during the evening. Police said Somchai allegedly confirmed the recent drug use, and, in a police report obtained by Tucson News Now, said he used cocaine every six weeks or so.

A search of the couple’s home produced multiple samples of drug paraphernalia, police said. Two small bags containing a white powder substance found at the residence tested positive for cocaine, they said.

The linked Yahoo News piece has 3580 comments at this time. I predict there’s a whole bunch of vicious judgment, directed mostly toward the mother, and a general consensus that she should be harshly punished for the presence of cocaine in her breast milk, which then went into her son’s body.

And I can already hear the protests from my side. “But, Donna! I’m pro-choice but shouldn’t she face some punishment for knowingly using cocaine while breastfeeding??” You might want to tamp down your enthusiasm for prosecution when you consider what happened to Rennie Gibbs in Mississippi:

Rennie Gibbs’s daughter, Samiya, was a month premature when she simultaneously entered the world and left it, never taking a breath. To experts who later examined the medical record, the stillborn infant’s most likely cause of death was also the most obvious: the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

But within days of Samiya’s delivery in November 2006, Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s de facto medical examiner at the time, came to a different conclusion. Autopsy tests had turned up traces of a cocaine byproduct in Samiya’s blood, and Hayne declared her death a homicide, caused by “cocaine toxicity.”

In early 2007, a Lowndes County grand jury indicted Gibbs, a 16-year-old black teen, for “depraved heart murder” — defined under Mississippi law as an act “eminently dangerous to others…regardless of human life.” By smoking crack during her pregnancy, the indictment said, Gibbs had “unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously” caused the death of her baby. The maximum sentence: life in prison.

Seven years and much legal wrangling later, Gibbs could finally go on trial this spring — part of a wave of “fetal harm” cases across the country in recent years that pit the rights of the mother against what lawmakers, health care workers, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and others view as the rights of the unborn child.

If you’re a non-medical expert like me, and you still thought to yourself, “wait, how did traces of cocaine cause an infant to strangle on her umbilical cord?”, you are not alone!

Experts who later examined the autopsy reports of Gibbs’ daughter disagreed with the conclusion that “cocaine toxicity” was the likely cause of the infant’s death. It was far more likely, they concluded, that the cause of death was the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck. But prosecutors pressed on, arguing that they had an obligation to prosecute Gibbs because the state has an obligation to protect children from their parents, and failing to do so sends a message that “every drug addict who robs or steals to obtain money for drugs should not be held accountable for their actions because of their addiction.”

“Prosecutors pressed on”. Of course they did. We are a culture with a real hard on for punishing “bad women”, especially if they are mothers (or pregnant, hence potentially mothers) even when, as the case of Rennie Gibbs, the prosecution itself was baseless. Which, by the way, may be true of Krystin Rae Lisaius. Babies can present as distressed and lethargic for a variety of reasons not caused by cocaine in their systems. But it’s likely that authority figures in Tucson are going to be far less interested in actual evidence of what hurt the baby than they are in making an example of Lisaius. That may provide them with a sense of self-righteous satisfaction, but it probably will contribute to the opposite of improving health outcomes.

Gibbs’ prosecution reflects a troubling increase in prosecutors charging women with crimes related to pregnancy outcomes. As documented by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, there were a total of 413 documented cases between 1973 and 2005 where women faced criminal charges related to her pregnancy and outcome. Since 2005, that number has skyrocketed with 200 additional documented cases of prosecutors criminally charging women under so-called fetal harm laws. Those prosecuted were disproportionately low-income women and women of color.

“The biggest threats to life-born and unborn do not come from their mommies—but rather poverty, barriers to health care, persistent racism, and environmental hazards,” NAPW executive director and co-counsel for Gibbs, Lynn Paltrow, told Rewire. “Prosecutions like these increase risks to babies by frightening pregnant women away from care and by using tax dollars to expand the criminal justice system rather than to fund Nurse-Family partnerships that actually protect the health of the children.”

It’s understandable to want to protect babies from cocaine abusing mothers breastfeeding them, but it’s important to consider whether criminalization is the best way to do that. Sober evaluation of facts and reason should outweigh feelings in this situation, because the feelings are bound to spring from existing societal hostility toward “bad” women/mothers, which is exacerbated if they’re poor. (The Lisaius’s can afford good legal representation but that’s not the case for others.)

And the possibilities are endless, where using the criminal justice system to scrutinize and monitor mothers and pregnant women, is concerned. It allows anyone with a misogynist bug up their ass and a suspicion to go after a woman (torch the witch!) for any behavior that may be thought to have harmed a child or fetus, or to have the potential to do that. That could be smoking, drinking, eating junk food, exercising vigorously, working, etc. Not breastfeeding (oh the irony!) could be viewed as maternal negligence and a cause to penalize a woman whose child isn’t thriving for some reason.

Really, it is truly ironic that Krystin Lisaius may be charged with child abuse and endangerment for breastfeeding, considering how strongly new mothers are encouraged to do that. Had she been a “bad mother” and bottle fed her baby, Lisaius would have spared herself from some of the charges she may be facing.


  1. Comment by Bo Diddon on September 1, 2016 8:22 am

    Wow, let me say you are precisely the type of person that should NEVER become a parent. What you fail to see, is the infant/your children should be the number one priority, and your selfish little desires put aside. Your sole responsibility is for the health and well being of that child. These “parents” brought in a very lethargic and unresponsive baby to the hospital, and REFUSED a blood test, not just at one, but the 2nd when the first could not identify the serious risk. In short, these losers put their cocain habit and fear of being discovered over the life of their child.

    As for being bullied with the notion that breast milk is better than a bottle, it is undeniably a fact that in most circumstances it is better. For my wife having to go through cancer treatment, it was bad, for a drug user it is bad, so in those instances you bottle feed. When you see a mother breast feed, you can assume they have researched it and want what is best for their baby. So, beyond the formal education of this couple, is also the research they were certain to make about what is best for the baby in breastfeeding. From before you are pregnant, you change your health habits, take prenatal, stop drinking, etc. Everything from this moment is to ensure the health of the baby and it again is common sense that what goes into your body, goes directly into the baby’s body. Again, research proves this, so these two knew there was a good chance this drug was entering the baby’s system, and certainly knew it when they took the baby to the hospital.

    Ad for careful evaluation of criminalization; of course this is criminal. The mother used a highly addictive and dangerous drug, to which she then continued breastfeeding her child. Again, her child was severely impacted by it and with the lack of judgment on the parents side, or concern for the health of their baby, they refused a blood test that could identify what was wrong with the child. The child could have easily died here you knucklehead. A parents number one job is to protect the baby. This baby is helpless , innocent and fully relies on their parent to protect them, and these two did not. These are the types of parents that not only need to be charged with child abuse, the child should be taken away from them because they have proven not once, but several times they don’t care about the well being of the child.

    Back to you; the fact that your idealistic views of drug legalization supersede that of what should be common sense, shows who you are. Again, please don’t ever have children. Not just because you don’t understand responsibility, but also because there is no room to pass on your genetics and extreme views.

  2. Comment by Donna on September 6, 2016 4:13 pm

    These “parents” brought in a very lethargic and unresponsive baby to the hospital, and REFUSED a blood test, not just at one, but the 2nd when the first could not identify the serious risk.

    I might buy that were it not for the fact that the father did not breastfeed the baby so whatever was in his blood would tell them nothing about what was in the baby’s system. The purpose of demanding a blood test from at least him, but likely both of them, was criminal prosecution. But nice try.

    And Bo, you are exactly the kind of preening moralizing tool thanks to whom we have a lot of unwise public health policies (such as criminalizing drug use) that do more harm than good. And for all your twaddling about how women like me shouldn’t procreate I have a strong hunch you are an anti-choicer, given how you seem to view women as walking baby farms.

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