Where’s The Treatment Plan? Ill Mother Released To Family After Son’s Death In Swing


I want to continue making readers aware of an especially troubling case in Maryland that involves the death of Ji’Aire Simms, a three year-old boy nicknamed “Sumo” because of his chubby cheeks. He died in May this year from hypothermia and dehydration after being pushed in a playground swing for 40 hours straight by his mother, Romechia Simms, age 25, who reportedly had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  She never left his side and continued pushing him during a rain storm and after he already had died. (He’d been dead two days when the police arrived.)

This week, The Washington Post reported that a judge had lowered Simms’ bond so that her mother,Vontasha Simms, could get her troubled daughter out of jail and, hopefully, into treatment before she is brought to court to face charges of manslaughter and first-degree child abuse punishable by 45 years in prison.

What’s upsetting about this news story is not that Simms has been released from jail, but her mother’s claim that Simms did not receive any mental health treatment while incarcerated.

It’s always dangerous to be an arm chair quarterback based on a news article but someone in Maryland should be asking why Simms’ didn’t begin getting mental health care the moment she was jailed. If she had a heart condition, doctors would have been summoned.

Vontasha Simms is struggling to pay her bills and will have a difficult time supporting her daughter. Who will be providing Romechia with psychiatric care? How will she get to that care? Who will be monitoring her? How will she get medication if she needs it? All of these are questions that should have been asked and answered before she was released from jail to insure that she moved into a treatment program.

Based on the scant information in the Post story, it would appear that no such release planning was done. The Post’s Dana Milbank wrote a column last Sunday about the obstacles he had faced when trying to help a friend obtain adequate mental health care in the Washington D.C. area. Milbank is an influential and well-connected figure. If he couldn’t get his friend help, what chance will Vontasha Simms have in getting her troubled daughter treatment?

There is another real danger here. Sometimes, defense attorneys advise their clients to not undergo treatment before a trial. They worry jurors will be confused and unsympathetic if they are told that a defendant is severely mentally ill and yet see the accused sitting calmly in the courtroom.

Tragedies often spark reforms, which is what is happening here in Fairfax County because of the preventable death of Natasha McKenna, the 37 year-old African American who died after being repeatedly shot with a Taser in jail where she never should have been incarcerated. I hope that mental health officials in Maryland will  insure that Simms gets into a treatment program and that she receives wrap-around services, including housing.

Getting her mental health treatment is not rewarding her for what happened to her son. Chances are, he would still be alive if his mother had received adequate treatment. While late, helping Romechia Simms now is what a caring society does when someone becomes mentally ill and needs help.


Mother charged in child’s swing death released on bond from Maryland jail
The Washington Post  by DeNeen L. Brown and Fenit Nirappil 

The Maryland mother found pushing her dead preschooler on a swing in May has been released from jail after her family posted bail.

Romechia Simms, 25, was freed Tuesday after spending more than two months in custody at the Charles County Detention Center, her mother and her public defender said Wednesday. She is awaiting trial on manslaughter and child abuse charges after she was found pushing her dead 3-year-old, Ji’Aire Lee, in a La Plata, Md., park.

Ji’Aire died of hypothermia and dehydration after Simms pushed him on the swing for 40 hours, even as it rained, authorities said. The case generated headlines around the world.

Vontasha Simms, Romechia’s mother, said her daughter has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and was not getting mental health treatment in jail.

In an interview last week before her release, Romechia Simms said that she needed therapy “to deal with my mental illness, to deal with my grief. I try to get sleep. I try to exercise. I try to go to church.”

A stuffed animal and flowers sit near a swing in Wills Memorial Park in LaPlata, Md, where Ji’Aire Lee was found dead. (Matthew Barakat /AP)
She said that she has been devastated by Ji’Aire’s death: “I miss my son every day. I’m still grieving. I think about him all the time. I dream about him all the time.”

Ji’Aire, nicknamed “Sumo” for his chubby cheeks, had been dead for two days when Simms was found May 22 pushing him in Wills Memorial Park in La Plata. His body was so stiff that police cut down the swing to get his body out.

Romechia Simms was taken to a nearby mental health facility but was able to attend her son’s funeral. In September, she was indicted on charges of manslaughter and first-degree child abuse.

She has been held since Sept. 14, initially on $150,000 bond, which was later lowered to $60,000.

Before Ji’Aire’s death, Simms had been hospitalized twice after breakdowns. The boy’s father, James “Donnell” Lee, had sought custody in D.C. Superior Court, raising concerns about his former partner’s mental stability. But at a May 11 court hearing, he agreed to share custody with Simms, caring for Ji’Aire only on weekends.
At the time, Vontasha Simms was living with her daughter and Ji’Aire in a motel in La Plata. Now, Vontasha Simms said, she is on more stable financial ground. She has just rented a house in Waldorf, Md., she said.

When a judge lowered Romechia Simms’s bond in October, it made it easier for her mother to save enough money to get her out of jail.

Vontasha Simms said that her daughter will be able to live with her and get treatment. She will undergo a court-ordered psychological evaluation before her Jan. 25 trial date.

Since her daughter’s indictment, Vontasha Simms has been pushing for legislation that she has dubbed Ji’Aire’s Law, which would allow “a parent, guardian, or close family relative or friend to take a supervisory role in the care and well-being of an adult suffering from a mental illness.”

She testified about it before the Board of Charles County Commissioners, which is considering including it in its legislative wish list for the upcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly.

Before Ji’Aire died, Vontasha Simms said, there were several situations in which she tried to get help for her daughter, including an incident in February when Romechia Simms walked barefoot down a street holding her son’s hand.

“I explained she was in a crisis,” Vontasha Simms said she told authorities. “They said she looked competent.”

If Romechia Simms is convicted of manslaughter and child abuse, she could face up to 45 years in prison.

Her mother insisted that she is not guilty of a crime. “She didn’t do anything to intentionally harm him,” she said.

Romechia Simms was struggling to hold on to reality as she pushed Ji’Aire in the swing, her mother said.

“I think she was hearing voices in the park,” her mother said. “She was thinking it wasn’t safe for her to leave. I don’t think she could distinguish between day and night. Time stopped for her sometime in that park.”

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.