Last week's most salacious public safety story in Rochester — and a fair distance beyond — probably was the one about Tasha Schleicher, 40, accused of driving drunk with several children in her car.
A Rochester woman with five children — ages 9 to a nursing infant — in the car was arrested …
In addition to the kids in the car, there were several more at the family's home in southeast Rochester. Schleicher was raising 10 children.
She swerved several times down the highway, the report says, and one of the responding officers claimed she was nursing her newborn when he arrived.
So why in the world would Schleicher's neighbors call her "a very good person" and bristle at the idea that she's a bad mother?
For her part, Schleicher denies nursing her baby at any point in the incident and said she swerved because her tire blew out. The off-duty officer who first approached her was in his own vehicle and reportedly didn't have his badge.
She doesn't, however, deny drinking alcohol.
Still, said a neighbor who didn't want her name used, "You can't put all the blame on her. We did our best to support her — you could see she was struggling."
Their kids played together, the neighbor said, and Schleicher shared her concern about a couple of her children's behavior.
"I could not believe the lack of support for her," the woman said. "There was nothing from social services, no mental health or chemical dependency support."
Another neighbor said they'd had "no issues, no complaints" about Schleicher's family in the short time they'd lived there.
"We tried to help where we could; I took some of the kids to the park a few times," the man said. "Her kids mean the world to her."
So how did Schleicher end up on the side of a road in Olmsted County, three years after real warning bells began to ring, seemingly lost to her 11 children? The story might surprise you.
When Tasha Schleicher was arrested last month on suspicion of driving under the influence, her story was reported widely — and what a story it was, full of attention-grabbing details:
The vehicle she was driving south on U.S. Highway 52 north of Rochester struck the median cable barrier several times at highway speed.
She drove for five miles until a flat tire eventually wore down to the rim, finally pulling onto the shoulder as an off-duty Rochester police sergeant followed her.
And the most dramatic part: Five of her children — including a newborn baby — also were in the car, authorities said. Five more children were at home.
There's more to Schleicher's story, though, and it's one that deserves to be told.
Be prepared: It's probably not what you're expecting.
A Google search of her name turns up the earliest mention: A January 2008 report in the Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News about Tasha Lynn Schleicher, 31, charged with four counts of first-degree wanton endangerment and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants.
Eleven months later, Schleicher was convicted of DWI in Wisconsin — she'd delivered her fifth child three months earlier.
For the next several years, there's no mention of Schleicher, online or in court records.
On Sept. 24, 2015, Hennepin County Child Protection received a report of neglect and physical abuse of Schleicher's children. Someone told authorities her two oldest kids, then 14 and 13, weren't attending school and were "walking in the neighborhood high," the report says, adding Schleicher was giving her children the marijuana.
The 14-year-old allegedly was caring for eight siblings for a week, while Schleicher and her husband were in California.
Schleicher denied giving her children marijuana and said a relative had provided care for the kids while she and her husband were gone.
The case was closed at investigation, with no services offered to the family, per the county's report.
Not long after, the 13-year-old went to live with his father in North Carolina. He's lived there since.
On Feb. 9, 2016, members of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Violent Offender Task Force executed a search warrant at an address in North Minneapolis to look for marijuana and weapons.
Eleven people were in the home, including eight children between the ages of 11 years and 3 weeks old, all Schleicher's.
A 2-year-old was asleep on the couch; a loaded handgun was under the couch cushions, the court document says.
About 3.3 pounds of marijuana was found in nine separate containers, and another loaded handgun was found in a closet in an upstairs bedroom.
Schleicher had given birth to her 10th child two days earlier; she was recuperating in her bedroom when the raid occurred.
Her husband, Taiwan King, was arrested; Hennepin County Child Protection was notified about a month later.
Schleicher told a caseworker she and her children had moved out of the home and were planning a move to Idaho, where her parents live. Once again, no action was taken against Schleicher, who promised to stay away from King.
No resources are mentioned in the report filed by child protection workers.
In June 2016, a child welfare case was opened in Indiana after Schleicher allegedly fled from law enforcement, who then found drugs in her car.
Her 4-month-old son also was in the car, court documents say. He was the only child named in the protection case, which remains open. No resources were offered, and he remained in her care.
A year passed.
The Google search also turns up this, from the Douglas County (Ore.) News Review: Tasha Lynn Schleicher, 40, of Winchester, arrested on suspicion of two counts of driving under the influence of intoxicants, second-degree failure to appear and providing false information to a police officer.
On April 11, Schleicher's husband was arrested in Oregon after a traffic stop recovered a box "filled with marijuana and had a shipping address to another state," according to an Oregon State Police report.
The arrest was a violation of the terms of his probation in Minnesota; he's been in custody since. Schleicher believes he'll be released later this month; they've been separated for about two years.
Schleicher's oldest child, now 16, was behind the wheel during the traffic stop, resulting in an endangerment charge. That, combined with allegations of drug manufacturing against King, prompted officials in Douglas County to open a child protection case.
Schleicher's six oldest children — ages 16, 13, 12, 9, 7, and 6 — were named in the case and placed in protective custody.
In May, Schleicher was back in Minnesota with her three youngest children, now ages 5, 3 and 1.
Her six oldest children remained in protective custody in Oregon, and she was 7 months pregnant with her 11th child.
On Mother's Day, New Hope Police received a call about a car with Oregon license plates that was "running red lights, cutting other vehicles off and driving across the concrete center median," the report says.
When officers found the vehicle, it was pulled onto the shoulder; Schleicher was unresponsive "due to an unknown substance," court documents say.
The three children had gotten out of the vehicle and allegedly were playing in the street. They were placed on a 72-hour police hold with a family friend.
Schleicher regained consciousness but was confused. She was taken to the hospital, where a "poor blow" into a breathalyzer indicated an alcohol content of .16, the report says.
She denied drinking alcohol but told an investigator the next day that she'd bought a bottle of water from "a man at the park," drank it, then pulled over when she began to feel sick. She "blacked out" and remembers only waking up at the hospital.
Child protection cases
Three days later, on May 17, the first Minnesota child protection case naming Schleicher and her children was opened. It named the three youngest children.
An investigator learned the six oldest children were in protective custody in Oregon, but the rest of the information provided was either incomplete or incorrect.
The Oregon authorities believed — and told Hennepin County authorities — the three youngest children were in Indiana.
They also claimed Schleicher was an active substance abuser, had untreated mental health issues and was "involved in criminal activities along with King," despite no mention in reports of chemical or mental testing.
Though the Indiana protection case for the youngest child remained open, officials there had no idea where he was, the report says.
They believed King had physical custody of him — despite the fact that King was by now in prison in Nebraska.
The three youngest children remained in foster care placement from May 14 through Aug. 18.
During that time, Schleicher was diagnosed with nonspecified adjustment disorder, but there was no recommendation for mental health services "as Ms. Schleicher was already receiving care for her chemical health issues," the Hennepin County paperwork says.
She entered into outpatient chemical dependency treatment and submitted to random urinalyses and breathalyzer tests. All were negative, the reports say.
Schleicher further complied with a case plan by meeting with a parenting worker through Volunteers of America, attended supervised visits with the children and had no new child protection reports.
The six oldest children were brought to Minnesota from Oregon the first week in August.
On Aug. 18 — three months into her case — all nine children were returned to her care.
She was a week away from giving birth to her 11th child.
"I don't even know where to start," Schleicher said Thursday.
She acknowledged the police raid in February 2016 in North Minneapolis but didn't speak about the incidents in Indiana and Oregon.
A search of both states' court records reveals no criminal cases in Schleicher's name.
"On Mother's Day, I had a nervous breakdown," she said of the May incident in New Hope. She claimed she'd just learned one of her daughters had her arm broken in foster care in Oregon; her 13-year-old had been allowed to leave in a car with much older teenagers.
That day in New Hope, "they took the three youngest and placed them in protective parenting," Schleicher said. "I did everything to try to get them back; I fought and got them back."
By then she'd moved to Rochester, promising to submit to testing through Olmsted County and finishing her chemical dependency treatment here.
"Everything was going really, really well for me — then I had a baby on the 25th of August," Schleicher said. "I think I've suffered since then from severe postpartum depression."
The little girl was born breech, at home, with only Schleicher's mother assisting. The birth left her with a dislocated hip.
"I was supposed to go back to treatment" after the birth, she said. "I'd been able to continue (with the court-ordered case plan). I never made any mistakes. I never drank. I did everything they wanted."
But "I wasn't able to continue because I'd just had the baby, and I had three small children at home," Schleicher said. "I got them into a certified day care," which then refused to take them because Schleicher is a conscientious objector of immunizations. She was raised that way, too, she said.
"On top of everything else," Schleicher said, "there was just the adjustment of them coming back and living with me."
Her 5-year-old, she said, "probably three days a week, they had to bring him home from school. It was a pretty uncontrollable situation with behaviors that I'd never experienced in my life."
Almost no help for her
Schleicher claims Hennepin County Child Protection provided her with very few, if any, resources after returning the children to her care.
"I wasn't offered any support services," she said. "I contacted social services myself; everything I did, I did on my own. I was doing it all on the money I saved from working" at a restaurant in the Twin Cities area.
Schleicher claims she's never accepted "welfare," never received food stamps or used Section 8 housing. The property owner of the tidy home she rented in southeast Rochester confirmed it wasn't subsidized housing but declined further comment.
An official with Hennepin County Child Protection didn't follow through with a scheduled interview with the Post Bulletin. But, a statement arrived the next day from the public relations office.
"We cannot comment on individual cases; however, the safety of children is our top priority. We complete a systemic review of all critical incidents in order to learn as a system what we can to maximize safety and well-being for children.”
Schleicher saved the text messages she exchanged with her case worker in Hennepin County.
"I kept in contact with her" because the children, especially, "were going through so much emotionally. They didn't offer counseling, though, so I ended up working with the school and finally getting some counseling," Schleicher said.
Rochester Public Schools — Riverside Central Elementary School, specifically — "was actually the only one that offered me any help," she said. Her son was a safety issue for the school, "so I was dealing with the school on a daily basis with different behavior issues with the kids."
She'd also gotten them into the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester: "I was trying to talk to anyone who could help me."
The case plan enacted in Hennepin County meant the resources were there, not in Rochester.
"I kept calling (Hennepin County officials), crying and telling them everything that was going on," Schleicher said. "All they said was, 'Well, we made a referral,' but it was a month later, and nobody ever called.
"It wasn't just that they gave me back a couple kids and I screwed up," she said. "It was a lot more stress than that."
'Thought I was going crazy'
Though Schleicher claims she doesn't drink regularly, "I made a huge mistake after it got really stressful. I don't know."
Two hours after her arrest Sept. 23, a breathalyzer indicated an alcohol content of .17, more than twice the legal limit to drive in Minnesota.
And just like that, all 10 of the children were gone, placed in three separate foster care homes.
"After I got out of jail, I went and spoke with my family physician, which is my ob/gyn," Schleicher said. "They diagnosed me with severe postpartum depression.
"I didn't even know what it was," she said, "or understand what I was going through. In hindsight, I can definitely say after my last son, and this baby, definitely, I've had it before.
"I didn't know what it was," she said. "I just thought I was going crazy."
Schleicher started counseling Friday, the soonest doctors could see her.
"I feel like the times I received DUIs, the dates all are after I had just had a baby," she said. "I feel like it affected my decision-making, but I hadn't received the diagnosis. I told my doctor, 'Something's wrong with me. I mean, what do you think? Is this normal?'"
Since the diagnosis, she's been doing some research, learning about cases such as Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned all five of her children after suffering from postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.
"I would never hurt my kids," Schleicher said. "I didn't ever think about hurting them, but I made a decision that wasn't anything near what I normally would have made, ever.
"I didn't have anyone to help me," she said, then paused, as if considering how it sounded.
"It's my fault because of the decisions I made," she admitted, "but I think they could have helped me more. Just by seeing my file. … They're licensed social workers; at least check on me, or maybe offer me something. I don't know."
'I can't blame them'
Schleicher alleges two of her younger children were physically abused in foster care, saying their social worker "wasn't very proactive."
She stopped again, obviously reconsidering.
"I guess I can't blame it on them," she said of the caseworkers. "They're my kids, and I should've taken care of them and not drank, so I don't want to place blame on them because I'm the one who let (the kids) down."
Schleicher has moved back up to the Twin Cities area, where she lives in an apartment and continues to recover from the difficult childbirth. She's been going to an outpatient treatment center for a week.
She has no idea what will come next; she's due back in Hennepin County Juvenile Court on Oct. 18.
"I contacted my public defender, but I haven't heard back," she said through tears. "I've complied with everything they've wanted me to do, and I'll continue to do anything to get my babies back or at least make it OK for them."
Schleicher seemed reluctant to acknowledge "part of the root of all the problems are my choices in men. I was with someone who was emotionally and physically abusive, but there are other issues at play, too.
"Everyone has choices to make every day, so I can make the choice to get better," she said. "I don't know what to tell you: I'm worried about the kids; that's my main thing. I hope we can receive the counseling and help we need to make us all better, healthier people.
"I'd like them to be back together and be safe," she said. "However that gets accomplished is the main goal for me."
Beyond that, she hopes her situation can serve as an example for future child protection cases.
"I'd like to see them offer more family support and counseling upon reunification," Schleicher said, "and offer training about postpartum depression so they can take the proactive measures to have moms evaluated. It could prevent a lot of problems."
It seems her newfound knowledge about the disorder that can affect up to 15 percent of new mothers has given her a renewed energy.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to get them back," she said, "and pray every day that God will give me my kids — and another chance."