Parents Falsely Accused: Treffly

Abusive Parent?
"My daughters collected about $8 in change, and they wanted to donate it to the Salvation Army. I took them to Wal-Mart. I had parked probably around two car lengths from the Salvation Army kettle, right in front," says Treffly. "I decided to leave my 2-year-old in the car, because it was sleeting outside, and she had fallen fast asleep. I could clearly see her in the car a few feet away from me, and it was a lot warmer. I felt she was safer, and warmer and more secure locked in her car seat."

What Treffly didn't know was that there was a community service officer standing nearby who saw the toddler alone in the car and felt Treffly should be apprehended.

"When I returned to the car, I was with my daughters. I tried to unlock the door. A community service officer started yelling at me. She was yelling, ‘How dare you? You don't know who's around here,' really going off," Treffly recalls. "I tried to explain to her that I was just at the kettle. I could clearly see the car. I could see everything going on. She said, ‘It doesn't matter. No, no, no.'"

Within seconds, Treffly was being arrested, handcuffed and put in the police car, away from her kids. "Being put in handcuffs and put into a squad car, in cuffs locked behind me, that was a really a defining moment," she says.

Treffly's husband, Tim, was outraged by the situation. "I think if they took my child away from me, and I saw my child disappearing with a stranger, I might have done something irrational, and I might have been the second parent in jail that night," he says. "A gavel needs to fall, and one way or the other, all we've ever asked for is an apology and that the charges be dropped. I didn't think that was asking for too much."

Dr. Phil shows a still image from the video Tim took the night of the incident and says, "This is Treffly's car. We're talking here about 30 feet."

Treffly joins Dr. Phil onstage. Dr. Phil asks her to hold one end of a tape measure, while he stretches it out 30 feet to demonstrate the distance she says she was from her car.

"How do you feel about leaving children in cars?" Dr. Phil asks Treffly. "We all hear about the stories like that, where a child's left in a car with the windows up, and it's hot, and they die."

Treffly says it's important to define unattended. "She was within my sight. I could see the car. I could get to it if I needed to. I felt safe in that situation," she says. "I certainly don't agree with parents, or anyone, who leaves a child in a car that's hot."

Treffly's arrest sparked a flurry of heated debates across the country. Dr. Phil asked people on the street for their opinion on the situation. 

One woman says, "A parent who leaves their child in a car unattended should be arrested. Press charges. Take the kid away from her. That is a way to show that you have no parenting skills at all."

"I've left my children in the car for a short moment to run into the post office," says a mom. "I think if you're in an area where you can still see the car; that would be fine."

Another mom offers, "I make sure I get the child out of the car. I walk all the way in with him. It may take longer, but the risks are way better to take them than leave them in the car." 

"I never think it's acceptable to leave your kid unattended. I think parents should definitely be arrested," says Candace, another woman. 

The charges against Treffly were dropped, but she says she's still dealing with the stigma of allegations. It was even reported in the news that the Chief of Police was upset that the case didn't move forward.

Dr. Phil says to Candace, "You said, ‘At that point, she voluntarily gave up her parental rights.'"

Candace addresses Treffly. "I believe that maybe you should have had some counseling," she says. "Obviously, something was going on that you thought it was remotely OK to leave your [child] in the car during that particular time."

"I think it is a wrong thing to do, to leave kids in a car alone. I think people can get hurt. I think bad things can happen," Dr. Phil makes clear. "But I think you also have to have some common sense."

Dr. Phil introduces criminal defense attorney Anthony Pope, who has defended people accused of abuse. "What's going on here, Anthony?" he asks.

"It was a gross overreaction," he says. "I'm very surprised that a superior officer was not called to the scene. I don't have a problem with them coming and evaluating it, and investigating it, but it's one of the clearest cases I've ever seen of an overreaction by law enforcement. There's no doubt. There was absolutely no abuse in this case."

Dr. Phil agrees. "To me, this seems like a huge overreaction," he says, noting that times have changed since he was a child. Dr. Phil says that when he was growing up, his mom often left him and his siblings in the car while she would do her grocery shopping.

Dr. Phil says to Treffly, "This isn't something that you advocate. You're just saying this was an overreaction in this situation and circumstance."


She concurs. "When I go grocery shopping, I put my kids in the car, and I go return the cart to the corral, sometimes even more than 30 feet. I've never gotten arrested then," she says, adding that she's never been arrested for running into a neighbor's house or dropping one child off at school, while another is in the car. "These are just things that I've never been arrested for, and you just don't think about. You're just parenting. You take calculated parental risks every day."


Dr. Phil gives the definition of abuse as explained by the federal legislation: The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. "It says, ‘Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in the death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm,'" he reads. "This is about putting children in danger."

Anthony adds, "The definition of neglect or abuse does not even come close to what this lady did."

Dr. Phil introduces Melissa, a mom from the same state as Treffly. She is a Dr. Phil Web Watcher who has been watching and listening to the show via Web cam. "You wouldn't leave your child in the car even to walk to the corner to put a letter in the mailbox?" he asks.

"Absolutely not," she says. "I have a toddler. Toddlers work quickly, in my opinion, and he could do a lot of damage in that time."

"You're saying, if you pulled up to a curb in the neighborhood, and there was a mailbox at your front fender, you would get out of the car, open the back door, wake up your baby, take it out of the seat, hold it, walk around to the mailbox, open it up, stick the letter in with your teeth, close it back, go around, put the child back in the car seat, button him back up, close the door, get back in it and drive six driveways down to your house?" he asks in disbelief.

"I'm sorry, but yes. It's just not really a risk I'm willing to take," she says.

"Maybe we should follow you around," Dr. Phil jokes.