‘Difficult decision:’ Father won’t face charge in newborn baby’s death

Feb 16, 2024, 8:00 PM | Updated: Feb 17, 2024, 6:00 pm

Image: A recent photo of Port Townsend...

A recent photo of Port Townsend (MyNorthwest file photo)

(MyNorthwest file photo)

A Port Townsend father, who has a history of drug use and homelessness, won’t face charges in the death of his newborn baby, for now.

“This is a very difficult decision,” Jefferson County Prosecutor James Kennedy told KIRO Newsradio.

Jordan Sorenson sparked a frantic search when he disappeared with the infant Jan. 18.

Two days later, he was spotted at the Kai Tai Lagoon Park in Port Townsend. That’s where officers found Sorenson, who eventually led them to the infant’s body, which was naked in a baby carrier.

Previous coverage: Infant found dead in Kah Tai Park after police arrest father

Sorenson told investigators that he had fallen asleep in a recliner with the baby on his chest. When he woke up two hours later, the baby was face down on his lap. The baby was blue and not moving.

Sorenson said he panicked and fled to the park.

“I don’t have any evidence — at this point in time — to refute that,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy added he does not have enough corroboration to support murder, manslaughter or other felony charges against Sorenson, because he can not prove Sorenson intended to hurt the newborn.

An autopsy found that the cause of the baby’s death was “undetermined.” It also detected a small amount of methamphetamine in the baby’s system, but the medical examiner’s report could not say definitively whether the drug had played a role in the baby’s death.

Kennedy says he did consider pursuing charges of endangerment with a controlled substance, but said the law appears to apply mainly to the manufacturing of methamphetamine (meth).

“Think about like having a meth lab in a house, where kids are,” Kennedy said.

Why no misdemeanor charges were filed

The prosecutor told KIRO Newsradio there is evidence that supports misdemeanor charges connected to the way the father handled his baby’s remains, and that he failed to notify the coroner.

But he said pursuing misdemeanor charges might prevent him from pursuing more serious charges — such as child endangerment — should additional evidence come up in the case.

“In my opinion, it was preventable,” Kennedy said about the baby’s death, even though he has declined to file charges against Sorenson at this time.

When the baby was born last Christmas Day, his mother was undergoing in-patient drug treatment. The baby tested positive for fentanyl when he was born.

When the infant was discharged from the hospital, Jan. 7, he was given to his father, after Sorenson — who had a history of drug use — passed a urinalysis test.

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Kennedy said there were reports that Sorenson had started using drugs again. One came from a medical worker who thought Sorenson was under the influence at one of the baby’s medical checkups.

After the baby disappeared, Kennedy says a gas station attendant informed law enforcement that Sorenson and the baby went inside the station’s restroom and stayed there for about an hour. The baby could be heard crying. There was allegedly evidence of drug use in the bathroom after Sorenson and the infant left.

Looking more at the law

“I think that had we had a law that would have allowed this child to go into foster care from the outset, this child would still be alive right now,” Kennedy said.

Last summer, a new state law went into effect that raised the bar for placing a child in foster care “incredibly high.”

He explained the law established a threshold of “imminent physical harm,” as a reason to remove a child from its parents, but exempted a number of things from that list, including, ” the living situation, a parent’s addiction, drugs in the house, a parent’s mental illness. For a newborn child, those are the thinks that are likely going to be presenting imminent physical harm,” he said.

According to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), the intent of the law, called the Keeping Families Together Act, passed by the legislature in 2022, was to “safely reduce the number of children placed in foster care,” among other things.

“Early data show that the new law is having its intended effect of reducing the number of children removed from their homes and placed into foster care. DCYF has seen a 30% reduction in the number of children coming into care between July 1, 2023, and September 30, 2023, compared to the same period in 2022,” a statement on the agency’s website reads.

A DCYF spokesperson declined to comment on the case in Port Townsend when KIRO Newsradio reached out last month, but the spokesperson provided a statement on the current state law, highlighting the challenges the department faces when keeping children safe in Washington.

“First, there is scale. In 2022, DCYF caseworkers provided a face-to-face response for more than 60,000 children where there were allegations of abuse or neglect,” DCYF’s statement read. “Only 6% resulted in placement into foster care, but the volume of work is immense. Keeping kids at home is the right thing to do, when it can be done safely, and it requires more intensive engagement with families in the home. This requires staff.”

Keeping Families Together Act: Washington child safety laws questioned after baby’s death

But Kennedy said to KIRO Newsradio previously that, regardless of the intent of the current law, this case showcases the need for a second look.

“The name of the law is the ‘Keeping Families Together Act.’ But (it) seems to completely ignore that there are some families that should not have been kept together,” he said. “It’s putting children at risk.”

Contributing: Kate Stone, KIRO Newsradio

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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‘Difficult decision:’ Father won’t face charge in newborn baby’s death