Newly released court documents show a Phoenix daycare director had problems with an employee accused of hitting a child with a broom in the past; blaming the victim's mother for "making this a big deal."
Three employees from Brighter Angels were arrested back in February when Lillie Adams was charged with abusing a 21-month-old boy. The owner, Ruben Sandoval, and the daycare director, Perla Denise Sierra Duarte, were originally charged with failure to report neglect of a minor and hinder the prosecution. Those charges came from viewing surveillance video of Adams striking the victim twice with a broom and not reporting it to police. The pair also drafted a document to give to the victim's mother that claimed the child "had tripped and fallen," knowing it was a lie.
However, their charges have since been dropped and misdemeanor charges were filed in Phoenix Municipal Court instead.
Both Sandoval and Duarte admitted they saw surveillance video showing Adams striking the 21-month-old victim twice with a broom. Adams also told police she knew the broom had a sharp edge to it, having cut herself on it before.
According to court documents, Duarte said she forged the letter and did not contact police because Sandoval had told her to. She told a detective that, "At the end of the day, it's a business. Even if we take care of kids, it's a business." Duarte said the daycare had just opened that new Phoenix location near Central Avenue and Baseline Road and they did not want the negative publicity to impact it.
ABC15 obtained a copy of the exact letter drafted by Sandoval and Duarte. It was given to the victim's mother to explain the victims injuries. It says in part, "He began to run around the classroom and accidentally tripped over [a] block and bumped his head on the table."
The daycare is still in business and Brighter Angels employees are watching loved ones every day.
ABC15 has learned Duarte just recently left the center, per Duarte's attorney who sent the following statement:
"For now, I will say that Ms. Duarte has left the Center because of all of the events that transpired. She only wants to tell the truth, and did so when she met with police. All of these events have been extremely upsetting, especially for a bright young lady, with no criminal history, who was not aware that there was a statutory requirement to report abuse. When Ms. Duarte observed the alleged abuse on camera, she immediately reported it to her boss, Mr. Sandoval."
Holly Ward, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Health Services told ABC15, "The person accused of the abuse is no longer employed at this facility. The investigation and any enforcement process that follows would determine the penalties assessed to the facility. "
During an interview with Phoenix police detectives, Duarte said Adams had once forgotten to take a head count of the children while on transportation duty and actually left a child behind. She also stated that Sandoval had warned her to watch Adams because she was "going to get them in trouble."
Duarte mentioned that she didn't call police after Adams struck the victim because Sandoval had told her not to and she "felt bad" for Adams. She claimed Adams had money problems, but also stated that Adams' "smoked marijuana."
Adams told detectives she was in their custody because she had made a mistake. Adams said she was sweeping cereal in a classroom with roughly 10 children, ranging in age from one to two. Duarte claims there were roughly 7 children in the classroom at the time.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there is a required staff-to-children ratio and that ratio is designed based on age. That is 1:6 for 1-year-old children and 1:8 for 2-year-old children.
Adams said she felt like she had far too many children in the room then was allowed by ADHS. She also stated that she was tired from a friend's funeral the day before and a recent surgery.
She said that the victim had crawled underneath a table and told him to get out twice. The 21-month-old was laughing when she struck him twice with the broom. From there, she heard the victim crying, so she pulled him out. After seeing the blood, she called for Duarte for help - but, told her the victim had fallen.
Duarte said, she viewed the video and told Adams she had to resign. Duarte said Adams began threatening to kill herself.
Duarte called Sandoval, who agreed with the resignation, but Adams said Sandoval promised - they would not report the incident if she did not talk about it with anyone. Adams said he did not want the police involved because they had just opened.
The twist in all of this - the victim's mother worked at Brighter Angels and was in the room next door when the incident happened.
In her interview, she explains that Duarte came into her room, holding her child. She told detectives there was so much blood around her son's eye that she almost called an ambulance.
After taking the child to the hospital for treatment, the mother said she demanded a meeting with Sandoval and Duarte. She also asked to see the surveillance video. The mother said she was told she was not allowed because children associated with the Department of Child Safety are in the video.
Later that week, the victim's mother said she was asked to return back to the hospital as the staff wanted to re-check her son's large cut on his forehead. The mother asked for a note from Duarte about what happened that she could bring to the hospital.
Duarte had told detectives, Sandoval and herself asked the assistant director to draft up a letter claiming the child had fallen and it was an accident. Duarte then signed it, admitting to authorities - she knew it was a lie.
The victim's mother said when she arrived back at the hospital, the injuries did not add up to the note provided and they needed to call the police.
From there, Phoenix police officers were able to get a search warrant to obtain the surveillance video, ultimately arrested Adams for the abuse. Her trial is expected to begin in August.