Thursday, July 28, 2005

Baby Picture Nightmare

It seemed so innocent.  There was Charbel Hamaty, happily playing with his five-month-old son, Kristoff.  As he leaned over to give the boy a kiss on the belly-button, his wife Teresa took a picture of her two guys at that joyful moment.

Every family has that photo.  When your kid is that age, you're taking out the camera every five minutes to document the developments of this amazing new person that's part of your world.  Sadly, the frequency of photography drops off considerably as the kid grows up.  My daughter's 11 now, and we only take out the camera for special events like a recital, a graduation, or a family get-together.  There's no more sneaking into her room at night to capture her blissful sleep on film, or to chronicle the day she sat at the kitchen table with pizza hanging off her chin.

That photographic decrease rate becomes exponential as the years go by.  I just turned 47, and I don't think my mother's taken a picture of me for a couple of decades -- in the last one she took, I had a full head of hair.  Now, when I drive down the road with the windows open and feel the breeze blowing through my hair, it's more of a singular noun.

Anyway, that innocent moment between father and son in the Hamaty house became a legal problem when Charbel dropped off the film at an Eckerd drugstore.  The lab tech who developed the film saw a man's face next to a naked baby and was worried that something was wrong -- something sexually inappropriate with a child.  Lab techs are told to look for these things now, and report any possible child abuse to the authorities.

When the photos were shown to the police, Charbel and Teresa were arrested.  Kristoff was put in protective custody, and his half-sister Victoria was handed over to her birth father, Teresa's ex.  Teresa was released on bail, but her children weren't returned to her.  Meanwhile, Charbel was charged with sexually assaulting his baby boy, and languished in prison for six months without a trial before the charges were dropped after a report was submitted by an expert who said there was no criminal intent in the photos.

Only then were Charbel and Teresa reunited with their children.  That's a half a year they had taken away from them -- time they should have been spending developing a wonderful parental bond with their infant son.

Someone owes the Hamatys an apology, at the very least.  The Eckerd lab tech was only doing his/her job, but the police and prosecutors in Raleigh, North Carolina, should immediately examine their procedures for dealing with circumstances like this, so that no other family ever has to suffer this nightmare scenario.

As for me, I'm seriously considering never capturing my daughter on film again -- not because I don't want pictures of her beautiful face, but because this may be the impetus we've needed to finally buy a digital camera.  That way, there's no lab tech or any outsider involved in the additions to our family photo album.