Lacey woman charged with manslaughter in baby's methadone death

Staff writerDecember 19, 2013 

Prosecutors have charged a 54-year-old Lacey woman with manslaughter in connection with allegedly providing or allowing her 1-year-old grandson access to methadone, causing his death in November 2012, court papers state.

Tami Roughton is charged with first-degree manslaughter with aggravating circumstances, or in the alternative, second-degree manslaughter with aggravating circumstances, along with unlawful possession of heroin, with intent to deliver, according to charging documents filed Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court.

Lacey police located Roughton Thursday afternoon in a local hospital. Lacey Police Lt. Phil Comstock said she is not able to be arrested now, but is subject to an arrest warrant as soon as her medical condition improves.

According to court papers, Roughton is a known heroin dealer who, as of last year, "was selling ounces of heroin weekly at multiple bars throughout Olympia," court papers state.

The complex, one-year Lacey police investigation, spearheaded by Detective Jaime Newcomb, determined that Houghton was the only person with access to methadone at a Sheridan Street home in Lacey at the time of her grandson's death.

The standard definition of first-degree manslaughter is "recklessly causing the death of another." The standard definition of second-degree manslaughter is causing someone's death due to criminal negligence.

The aggravating circumstances in Roughton's charges state that she knew or should have known that the victim "was particularly vulnerable or incapable of resistance," according to court papers.

According to Roughton's charging documents:

On Nov. 23, 2012, Roughton's grandson, Aydehn Lee Joseph "Joe-Joe" White, was pronounced dead after medics responded to Roughton's home in the 4900 block of Sheridan Street in Lacey.

In addition to the deceased baby, there were four other people in the home at the time of his death: three adults and a 7-year-old girl.

Detectives learned that White had stopped breathing at some point during the night, while he was sleeping in a bedroom with Roughton's 7-year-old daughter.

The child had a bruise under his eye at the time of his death, but there were no other obvious signs of trauma. The baby did suffer from Bronchiolitis, which had required several prior hospitalizations.

Roughton told detectives that at about 7 a.m., her 7-year-old daughter came into her room and told her she had moved White from a mattress on the floor to her own bed. The girl told Roughton White was "acting funny" and "was acting like a statue."

Roughton told detectives she then went into the bedroom that her daughter and White were sharing. She said she could not wake White up and observed that he was cold "and had a funny color to him." She said she called 911 and waited for paramedics to arrive.

A forensic pathologist who conducted an autopsy at the Thurston County Coroner's Office on Nov. 26, 2012, stated that White's death "was most likely from an underlying chronic asthmatic condition." But the pathologist added she would have to wait for more testing to determine cause and manner of death.

On Dec. 12, 2012, the corner's office received a toxicology report that showed White had enough methadone in his blood at the time of his death to kill him.

On Thursday, Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock confirmed White's official cause of death is "acute methadone intoxication" but the manner of death is undetermined. "We can't prove how (the methadone) was ingested or how he got it," Warnock said.

As Lacey detectives investigated the case, they learned that Roughton had been the focus of child abuse investigations involving alleged abuse of her own children between 1993 and 2007. In 1993, Roughton tested positive for opiates while she was pregnant with her son. In 2005, Roughton's newborn daughter was hospitalized for methadone withdrawal.

During a Child Protective Services investigation in 2006, investigators alleged that Roughton had administered methadone to her daughter through her milk bottle. Roughton denied the accusation at the time.

Lacey detectives executed a search warrant at Roughton's residence in December of last year, and found heroin and hypodermic needles throughout the home. Roughton also had several doses of methadone locked in a safe in her bedroom. Roughton told detectives no one had access to her safe besides her, and she was the only one with the combination. 

A Lacey detective then told Roughton about the toxicology reports showing that White died of methadone intoxication.

Roughton began to sob, then fell to the floor crying. Roughton told the detective that she had four doses of methadone in her safe because she had stored them and "was going to kill herself by consuming them all at once."

When the detective asked Roughton why she wanted to kill herself, she said she felt "partially responsible" for White's death. Roughton said she gave her partner methadone the night of Nov. 22, 2012. Roughton then claimed her partner told her the next day that she may have gotten White's cough syrup mixed up with the methadone.

Roughton's partner denied taking any methadone from Roughton the night of Nov. 22, 2012. Roughton, meanwhile, said during her interview that White was not sick with any kind of cough on Nov. 22. Roughton's partner also told detectives that Roughton's story "makes no sense because there was no cough syrup in the residence and (White) was not sick that day." Roughton's partner said she never administered any medications to the baby.

On Dec. 26, 2012, White's mother called Lacey detectives, and told them that her own mother, Roughton, had just called her and left a voice message stating "I did play a part and I do feel responsible for (White's) death." White's mother told detectives that Roughton had attempted suicide the day before.

In October of this year, a Lacey detective subpoenaed records from South Sound Clinic of Evergreen Treatment Services, the sole methadone clinic in Olympia. The records indicated Roughton was a patient there.

Formal charges were filed this week. When Comstock was asked why it took so long to file charges, he said it was a complex case, requiring detailed lab analysis, multiple witness interviews and search warrants, and consultation with medical experts.

Comstock credited Detective Newcomb with doing a great job putting the case together. "It was an outstanding investigation," he said.

 

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 jpawloski@theolympian.com

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