Adler Metcalf and Sandy Acuna, the southern California parents of a 1-year-old child that died of a fentanyl overdose in September, are now charged with murder, police said Monday.
Metcalf, 22, and Acuna, 20, were arrested last week, according to local reports. Acuna was immediately charged with murder, while Metcalf was originally only booked for child endangerment.
But prosecutors added a murder charge to Metcalf’s rap sheet in his Monday court appearance, after police said they uncovered evidence that the pair were intentionally giving their children the deadly drug.
Both are presently in police custody at a Riverside County detention facility with bail set at $1 million.
Police: Adler Metcalf Gave His Son Fentanyl
According to court documents obtained by KESQ, the Jurupa Valley couple originally told investigators that their 1-year-old baby, Adler Acuna Jr., had crawled from his crib and ate a “white pain pill, possibly Oxycontin” a few hours before his death on Sept. 1.
But medical examiners found the boy’s cause of death was “acute fentanyl toxicity,” as opposed to an overdose from a traditional (or non-synthetic) opioid like Oxycontin.
During the investigation, police said they found photos of “pills consistent with counterfeit drugs containing fentanyl” on Sandy Acuna’s phone.
Shockingly, court documents also claim that the couple’s 4-month-old daughter had marijuana in her system.
Metcalf reportedly tested positive for fentanyl and marijuana, while Acuna had fentanyl in her system at the time of her arrest, court filings allege.
So what happened to baby Adler Acuna Jr.? Based on this evidence, the documents say, police believe that the pair were intentionally giving the illicit drugs to their babies.
Metcalf and Acuna Go to Court
In addition to the murder charge, Metcalf faces an enhancement of of causing “great bodily injury” to his late son, as well as three counts of willful child cruelty.
Acuna is charged with murder and two counts of willful child cruelty.
Metcalf appeared in a Riverside County court Monday, but reportedly did not enter a plea. His arraignment was expected to continue on Tuesday.
According to the District Attorney’s office, Acuna was “not medically cleared” by jail officials for her Monday court date and will be arraigned in coming days.
Officials did offer details on Acuna’s medical deferment, though it could be related to fentanyl withdrawal.
The couple were arrested and charged last week, more than two months after Adler Acuna Jr. died. It is not clear if either parent has retained an attorney.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that the pair are married. It was not immediately clear if social services have taken custody of Metcalf and Acuna’s surviving child, a 4-month-old girl.
Child Fentanyl Deaths Are Terrifyingly Common
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the synthetic opioid fentanyl is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the DEA writes that fentanyl is the “primary driver of overdose deaths in the United States.”
The agency says that only 2 mg of the drug is a potentially lethal dose for an average adult, and that “counterfeit” pills disguised as traditional pharmaceutical opiates like Oxycontin regularly contain 2 mg of fentanyl or more.
For young children, a lethal dose is believed to be even lower.
What’s more, fentanyl overdose deaths in babies and toddlers occur with horrifying regularity.
Last week, New York City police announced that a 22-month-old who had died in Manhattan in June was killed by fentanyl toxicity.
In August, a 1-year-old Palm Beach girl died after ingesting a mixture of fentanyl and cocaine.
In an especially horrifying case, a Tennessee woman was arrested over the summer when her newborn died of a fentanyl overdose just four days after the child was born. Local reports indicated that police believed the mother had passed the deadly drug to her baby while breastfeeding.