MILWAUKEE COUNTY (WITI) — Is there a safe way to sleep with your baby? Some say yes. Others, no. Some say it ought to be crime if alcohol or drugs are involved.
It's been eight years since Milwaukee's Health Commissioner first declared co-sleeping a crisis. Yet, babies are still dying in beds with adults. Now, state lawmakers will decide if some of those deaths should be treated as crimes or if the death of a child is punishment enough.
Cameron Martin had only been alive for 12 days when he fell asleep in his father's arms on a couch. Little Cameron never woke up. When he didn't, Cameron's parents called 911.
"I don't think he's breathing anymore," his father said to the 911 operator.
The conversation continued and the operator asked: "He's two weeks and he's not breathing at all?"
"Correct," the mother responded. She went on to say: "He was underneath dad when I came down."
Near the end of the call Cameron's mother came to a realization.
"I know he's gone," she said.
On September 13th, 2014, investigators say Cameron's father admitted to drinking five shots of brandy and other drinks at a neighbor's house before coming home around 1:00 a.m.
When investigators arrived hours later, they noted an "obvious odor of alcohol" on his breath.
By the time Wauwatosa police took him to the station for a chemical test, they say there was no alcohol in his system -- so it's unclear whether alcohol played a role in Cameron's death. Criminal charges were never filed.
But there's little doubt Cameron's death didn't have to happen.
"That is the thing that is frustrating to me in a lot of those cases. They were completely preventable," Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem) said.
Eight years after Milwaukee health officials declared co-sleeping a crisis, babies are still dying while sleeping with adults. About 20% of those deaths involve a caregiver who has been drinking or doing drugs.
"I just want people to make better choices," Rep. Kerkman said.
Rep. Kerkman is putting the finishing touches on a bill that would make it a felony to share a sleeping space with a baby while drunk or high on drugs.
"I just wanted to give my District Attorney another option or a different tool in the toolbox," Rep. Kerkman said.
Kenosha District Attorney Bob Zapf says it's a conscious decision to get intoxicated and then get in bed with a baby -- a decision that makes it more likely you could accidentally end up laying on top of a child and not know it.
"There's a wrongdoing here and somebody needs to be held accountable," Zapf said.
That's why Zapf spent nearly two years prosecuting a father who smothered his infant son. The dad was convicted of child neglect — thanks to a blood test that proved he was drunk.
The blood test, according to Rep. Kerkman, proved to be key evidence in the case. But, it's evidence that police don't always ask for.
That's why Rep. Kerkman is crafting a second bill that would make it standard practice for police to get blood from any caregiver involved in a suspicious infant death.
"I just don't want any baby to die," Rep. Kerkman said.
"A felony doesn't fix that," Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said.
Sen. Taylor agrees that drunken co-sleeping is dangerous, but says adding a new crime is not the best approach.
"I just don't want to penalize people. I want to get at the root to try to stop the issue, and I believe that poverty, mental health and addiction are the issues," Sen. Taylor said.
On that point, Milwaukee Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Swain agrees.
"There are already sufficient laws on the books to prosecute someone whose intoxication clearly and directly causes an infant's death," Swain said.
In October of 2014, police say Sheree Wimberly got drunk on vodka and then rolled over in her sleep — smothering her two-month-old grandson, K'Dyn Carson.
Court records show Wimberly's blood alcohol level was still above .08 at 7:00 a.m. — 11 hours after she went to bed.
Prosecutors charged her with second-degree reckless homicide. It was the first co-sleeping case charged as a homicide in Milwaukee County since 2009.
"So, no. I don't think we need to create a new law," Sen. Taylor said.
Sen. Taylor agrees irresponsible co-sleepers should be help accountable.
"Co-sleeping, with all due respect, is not a horrible thing. The truth of the matter is a lot of individuals have co-slept with their child. I have co-slept with my child. I think the issue is responsible co-sleeping," Sen. Taylor said.
Sen. Taylor is not the only parent who touts the benefits of sharing a bed with your baby, but she's the only one the FOX6 Investigators found who was willing to talk about it on camera.
"I enjoyed being able to look in my baby's eyes when I was nursing and, afterwards, leaving the baby near me especially in the middle of the night. But, I had a big enough space to be able to do that," Sen. Taylor said.
And, that is where Sen. Taylor and Milwaukee health officials vehemently disagree.
"Sleeping in an adult bed with a baby is not safe," Swain said.
In 2011, the Milwaukee Health Department launched a provocative ad campaign with images of babies sleeping with butcher knives.
"One would argue that, maybe, it is over the top in suggesting that all co-sleeping is inappropriate," Sen. Taylor said.
The wide variation in opinions only serves to highlight the challenge in crafting a solution.
"I am willing to entertain all the suggestions," Rep. Kerkman said.
That's why Kerkman — a Republican sat down with Taylor — a Democrat and members of Milwaukee's Black Health Coalition. Whether they can reach a consensus is uncertain, but what is virtually assured is that it's just a matter of time before another baby needlessly breathes a final breath.
In addition to making co-sleeping while intoxicated a felony, Rep. Kerkman's bill would require health care providers to supply new moms with educational materials about safe sleep. That could be controversial and Kerkman says she is still fine-tuning the bill's details.
Also, as it is currently drafted, the bill defines intoxication the same as drunk driving — .08 blood alcohol level or higher. The tricky part is measurement, because in most every case, 911 isn't called until several hours after the parent first laid down to sleep with the baby. It means prosecutors might literally have to extrapolate backwards to determine what a person's BAC might have been at the time they went to sleep.
Right now, there's no word on when the bill will be formally introduced in Madison.
CLICK HERE for further co-sleeping coverage via FOX6Now.com.
CLICK HERE for safe sleep resources via the Milwaukee Health Department.