After leaving his four-month-old son inside a hot car all day, an off-duty New York police officer eventually discovered his child’s motionless body hours later. Although the officer was directly responsible for his son’s death, the District Attorney’s office announced Tuesday that no criminal charges would be filed against him.
On the morning of June 6, Rome Police Officer Mark Fanfarillo woke up and took his older son, Brandon, to a daycare center in Whitesboro. According to the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office, Fanfarillo forgot to drop off his 4-month-old son, Michael, at a different daycare center in Rome and mistakenly left his younger child in the backseat of his car.
Completing his household chores, Fanfarillo reportedly went to sleep and awoke around 4 p.m. Before he could leave the house to pick up Brandon for soccer practice, Fanfarillo’s wife called from the daycare center in Rome asking where Michael was.
At 4:40 p.m., Fanfarillo discovered his infant son’s lifeless body inside his car and attempted to resuscitate him. Emergency responders transported Michael by ambulance to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy later determined that Michael had died from hyperthermia.
After deciding not to prosecute Fanfarillo for his son’s death, District Attorney Scott McNamara released a statement on Tuesday that said, “The facts and evidence in this case do not reach the threshold required for criminal liability. To be criminally negligent in our state, a person must fail to perceive that a substantial and unjustifiable risk will result from their conduct. A lapse or loss in memory is insufficient proof to satisfy the legal requirement of failing to perceive a risk – something more is required.
“Case law and prior unwarranted and unsuccessful homicide prosecutions of parents who have unintentionally left their child in a car clearly demonstrate that in order to sustain a conviction, the criminal negligence and reckless conduct involving children left in a car requires that the parent knowingly leave the child in the car. The law in our state recognizes a fundamental difference between the offender who leaves a child in a car knowing that the child is there but wrongly failing to appreciate the risk of such conduct, and the person who walks away from a vehicle after having forgotten that the child was still inside of it.”
McNamara continued, “There is no evidence to suggest this is anything more than a tragic accident. Unfortunately, prosecutors see tragic accidents all of the time that do not arise from criminal conduct and therefore do not result in homicide prosecutions. A parent that forgets to look both ways before pulling into traffic, a parent that forgets that their child is behind the car and backs over him/her, a parent who forgets to turn off an appliance that creates a fire – these are just a few such fact patterns seen hundreds of times each year throughout the United States.
“Research suggests that over the past twenty years that the increased legal requirement that children be placed in a car seat in the rear of the car and facing backwards contributes significantly to the parent not seeing the child and forgetting the child is in the car. Additionally, the common factors in accidental deaths of children forgotten in automobiles are typically a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and a change in routine. However, it is clear that in the vast majority of the cases seen each year, the children’s deaths are the result of a failure of memory, not a conscious failure of care for the health of the child.”
Instead of charging the officer with negligence or child endangerment, the DA decided not to prosecute because forgetting an infant inside a car is legally equivalent to accidentally leaving one’s groceries in the trunk. Although Fanfarillo does not face criminal charges, the officer will live the rest of his life bearing the guilt of his infant son’s needless death.