Owner accused of covering up abuse at Brighter Angels Learning Center appears in court

PHOENIX -

The daycare owner accused of covering up abuse at Brighter Angels Learning Center appeared in Phoenix Municipal Court on Wednesday.

Ruben Sandoval was originally facing two felony charges; failure to report neglect of a minor and hindering the prosecution, along with the daycare director, Perla Denise Sierra Duarte. However, those were dropped. 

After appearing, Sandoval's hearing was rescheduled for six weeks from Wednesday.

New misdemeanor charges were filed for both Sandoval and Duarte in Phoenix Municipal Court that state, "The defendant, who reasonably believed that a minor had been the victim of physical injury, abuse, child abuse or neglect, failed to immediately report this information". 

Both parties have plead not guilty even though both parties admitted in the police report that they knew daycare worker, Lillie Adams, severely hit a child with a broom in one of their Brighter Angels classrooms near Central Avenue and Baseline Road.

The evidence was caught on camera, but that video has been withheld by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for public viewing. The video is described in the police report as clearly showing Adams striking the child twice with the broom while the 21-month-old was under a table. He had a four-inch gash and blooding pouring down his face. 

Adams was fired, but the police report shows both Sandoval and Duarte admitted they watched the video of the abuse and still decided to draft a letter to the victim's mother that stated it was all an accident; that the boy had tripped and fallen. 

Both have been allowed to continue working.

Duarte has just recently quit, according to her lawyer. She was also supposed to be in Municipal Court on Wednesday, but had a job interview in another state. In a statement, Duarte's attorney, Ashley Adams said, "Ms. Duarte has left the Center because of the events that have transpired...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." 

Well, that statement goes to show yet another violation of policy by Brighter Angels. As director of the daycare facility, the Arizona Department of Health Services requires, in Section R9-5-307, "Suspected or Alleged Child Abuse or Neglect" - it states that a "licensee or staff member shall report the suspected or alleged child abuse or neglect to Child Protective Services or to a local law enforcement agency." 

ABC5 caught up with Paul Charlton outside of Phoenix Municipal Court. The former U.S. attorney for Arizona is now representing Sandoval.

"I think you are following a narrative that's not going to be proven true," Charlton said.

The narrative Charlton is referring to comes from dozens of pages of documents directly from Phoenix Police and their investigation. It includes interviews and evidence like the video that caught the abuse on camera.

Sandoval himself has admitted to some form of wrongdoing.

"All Americans, including this individual, have the opportunity to face the evidence against them," Charlton said. "And we're not going to try the court in the media."

The latest report was from ADHS on 4/28/17. On that day alone, the facility had 11 citations. 

o Documentations was off for multiple children; health care provider, emergency contact, etc.
o Children were found to not have proper immunizations or exempt affidavits
o Many children were found to have not been signed in our out of the facility; arrival and departure time was also missing
o Staff member hired did not have proper documentation of education
o Incorrect child to staff ratio. In the 1-year-old room, it was 1 to 7, when it is required to be 1 to 5
o Lesson plans throughout facility were not dated
o Two children were found sleeping in bouncy chairs in the infant room
o The diaper changing area in the ones room and the threes room had unrelated items, including diaper changing logs and a radio on the edge of the diaper area
o Cots were too close together in twos and threes room
o In the fours and fives bathroom, there was a toilet brush on the floor
o No paper towels in the dispenser in the fours and fives bathroom

Maricopa County also had an inspection at Brighter Angels just weeks before the abuse incident on January 30, 2017. According to the report, "raw chicken items stored [were] stored over ready to eat food items."

So, we asked ADHS - why is this daycare allowed to operate? And why were Duarte and Sandoval allowed to continue working? 

A spokesperson, Holly Ward, said that they factor what they describe was 'immediate jeopardy' into the equation. She said that they really rely on the first responders to take action when there is an incident that requires an arrest. From there, they assess if children will then be safe in that facility. According to them - there is no immediate jeopardy at Brighter Angels. But, they did state - there was an investigation into that facility. 

This Brighter Angels location is also not the only one Ruben Sandoval is listed as the owner of, according to the Arizona Corporation Commission.

He is listed in owning at least five different locations: Tempe (630 W. 17th Place, Tempe AZ 85287), Scottsdale (4856 E. Greenway Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85254), Glendale (10417 W. Georgia Avenue, Glendale AZ 85307), Phoenix (7727 S. Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ 85042) and Buckeye (19924 W. Cambridge Avenue, Buckeye AZ 85396). 

Ward said - this is a great example of how parents can take action and check on these facilities. 

They offer an "AZ Care Check" on their website where you can search all the citations a facility has. 

As for Adams, her charges have also been changed. She was facing child abuse charges, she is now facing charges for aggravated assault of a minor. That is a class 6 felony. She will see a judge at Maricopa County Superior Court on June 16. Her trial is expected to begin in August. She has plead not guilty. 

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