EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio (WKBN) – A young boy at the center of a controversial viral photo posted on the city of East Liverpool’s Facebook page has been placed in the custody of another family member.
Columbiana County Juvenile Court Administrator Dane Walton said the 4-year-old boy is in the custody of a great aunt and uncle who live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He said no other family members have come forward to take custody of the child after he was found in the backseat of a car with two passed out adults, believed to be under the influence of heroin.
The woman in the photo is the boy’s relative, Rhonda Pasek. She is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday for a pretrial hearing.
The man in the photo, 47-year-old James Acord, is not related to the child. He has been convicted of child endangering and driving while impaired and was sentenced to almost one year in jail.
Pictures of the couple, who police say were unconscious due to a drug overdose, were posted on the East Liverpool City’s Facebook page following a Sept. 7 traffic stop. An officer spotted Acord driving erratically along St. Clair Avenue. When officers approached the vehicle, Pasek was already unconscious and Acord passed out a short time later.
Good or bad, the small city of East Liverpool is in the national spotlight. Days after the picture was released, people are still talking about it.
“I felt so bad for the little boy. My heart just broke for him,” said Dawn Fitch, of East Liverpool.
Reaction to the posted photos has been mixed. Some were supportive of the police department’s and city’s decision to release the photos, while others say the child’s face shouldn’t have been shown.
“Even though it is a huge controversial thing that happened and it’s obviously horrible, they still need to keep in mind the actual families,” said Sarah Depew, of Ohioville.
Joann Williams had a different view.
“I think you would have missed the whole point of the picture if you would have blurred his face,” she said.
East Liverpool Police Chief John Lane stands by the department’s decision, saying the real impact of the photos would have been lost by blurring the boy’s face. He said the idea was to bring awareness to the heroin epidemic, and he thinks he did that after the photos were shown in the local and national media.
“In the pictures, that kid sitting there with no emotion on his face, that wasn’t just for the picture. That was the entire time, so you can only imagine what that little kid has seen and had happen to him,” he said.
He added, “It was the right decision to do. Got that kid what he needed, to get out of that situation.”
Brian Allen, director of Public Service and Safety, said legally he couldn’t blur the boy’s face because the photos were part of a public court document. He added that there is no expectation of privacy when you’re out in public and the incident happened in a public place.
“If we had to do it all over again today, knowing the reaction that we would get tomorrow, we would do it again,” he said.
For the police department, the photo is representative of a bigger problem with drug addiction in the city.
“This past weekend, we had seven. One person died and just the reality of it is, this is happening every day and it needs to be addressed,” Chief Lane said.
The city said it received a phone call from the governor’s office on Tuesday, requesting a meeting. They hope to convince the state government that more funding is needed locally to combat the drug problem.