LA PLATA, Md. >> A Maryland woman who was found pushing her dead son in a playground swing earlier this year has been indicted and charged with manslaughter and child abuse, authorities announced Monday.
At an arraignment Monday in Charles County Circuit Court, prosecutors said Romechia Simms, 24, of LaPlata, spent two entire days in a LaPlata playground pushing her 3-year-old son, Ji’Aire Donnell Lee.
Authorities say Lee died of dehydration and low body temperature while he was in the swing. Medical examiners ruled the death a homicide.
At Monday’s arraignment, Simms objected when prosecutors declared her a danger and a flight risk, according to Kristen Ayers, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney.
“I’m not a risk to anybody,” Simms said, before her public defender advised her to be quiet. “I didn’t even mean for this to happen.”
Prosecutors said Simms’ mental state is in question and they wanted her held while she receives another evaluation.
Sheriff’s deputies found the toddler dead in the swing the morning of May 22 after receiving a call that a woman had been pushing a child in the swing at odd hours. State’s Attorney Anthony Covington said Monday that police found Lee’s jacket in the trash, and his shoes off his feet, filled with rain water.
A judge ordered Simms held, with bond set at $150,000, and scheduled a January trial date. She faces up to 45 years in prison — 30 years on first-degree child abuse, 10 years on the manslaughter charge and 5 years on a charge of child neglect.
Family members have said Simms was suffering from mental illness. She was hospitalized after the death of her son.
Earlier this year, the boy’s father petitioned a District of Columbia court for custody of his son, saying Simms was behaving erratically and jumped out of a moving taxicab with Ji’Aire.
In court papers, Simms acknowledged she had had a mental breakdown but insisted she was doing better.
“This breakdown that I had was the first that I have ever had in my life and I truly believe it was from an extreme amount of stress weighing heavy on me. I am now in a much better productive space,” she wrote in a letter to the judge.
In May, just days before Ji’Aire’s death, a judge ordered the two to share custody, and court records indicate both Simms and the boy’s father agreed to the arrangement.
Wills Memorial Park, where Ji’Aire died, is visible from the road but bordered on one side by woods in the town of La Plata, about 30 miles southeast of Washington.
Court records in Charles County show a history of domestic disputes between Simms and her mother, Vontasha Simms. In those court papers, at one point it appears that Vontasha Simms also considered seeking custody of Ji’Aire Lee, but scratched out the paperwork that would have formalized the request.
In court papers, Vontasha wrote that her daughter “attacked me before jumping on me and hitting me while I was sitting on my bed. … She was very angry and out of control.”
In one of the cases, Romechia Simms wrote a letter to the court explaining the stress she was under.
“Between being a mom, work and school I have a load on my hands,” she wrote.
She told court officers she was working as a barista in Starbucks and attending classes at Bowie State University.
The family had been living at the Deluxe Inn motel in La Plata, not far from the park, for several weeks before Ji’Aire died. Residents and a housekeeper described constant fighting between the grandmother and mother, and said the boy seemed to be mistreated at times.