DOVER, DE — Three Delaware day care workers videotaped a fight between 3-year-old boys in their care and encouraged the toddlers to pummel each other as they laughed about it, according to court documents.
The three women were charged Monday with assault and other offenses after Dover police obtained a cellphone video of the March 6 incident. Officials suspended the license of their employer, Hands of Our Future day care center in Dover, the same day.
Tiana Harris, 19, of Dover, Estefania Myers, 21, of Felton, and Lisa Parker, 47, of Dover each posted $10,000 secured bond. Each is charged with felony assault and conspiracy, and several misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
The women allowed and encouraged two 3-year-old boys to fight each other, according to a probable cause affidavit. Police allege the video taken by Harris shows one child screaming, crying and holding his face while being punched by the other, who is also punched and shoved into a table.
During the fight, Parker allegedly grabbed one of the boys and forced him to continue. Harris and Myers, meanwhile, are shown and heard laughing and encouraging the altercation, police said.
"They're doing nothing to prevent this from happening," Dover Police Capt. Tim Stump said, adding that the video makes clear that one of the boys does not want to continue.
"He's crying, he doesn't want any part of continuing, and he rushes to one of the defendants and is turned around and shoved back into the fray," Stump said.
Police held a closed-door meeting Monday night with parents and guardians of children attending the day care.
"They're obviously very concerned," Stump said, adding that police are trying to determine whether there were other instances of fighting encouraged by day care employees.
"This investigation is far from over," he said.
Police have refused to release the video, saying it is evidence in a continuing criminal investigation.
Cristyl Slack, whose 4-year-old daughter is one of seven children who can be seen in the background on the cellphone video, said she is shocked by the allegations. Slack said her daughter has told her repeatedly that the teachers don't condone fighting.
"She's specifically said that the day care teachers have told her, if somebody hits her, don't hit them back," Slack said.
Slack said she has not seen the video, and that police have advised parents not to press their children about what happened. Police have indicated that they will allow parents of children who can be seen in the video to view it at some point, but have not said when, Slack added.
Slack could not recall her daughter complaining of anything at the time of the March incident.
Slack said she transferred her children to Hands of our Future early last year after Teresa Perez opened the business. Slack's children had previously been at another center where Perez, Myers, Parker and Harris worked.
"I can't imagine her ever hurting a child," Slack said of Myers. "I trust her with my kid's life."
Perez, who according to court records has a criminal conviction for theft, has 10 days to appeal notice of the license suspension, officials said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the three workers face a preliminary hearing Friday.
It was not immediately clear whether the women had attorneys. A man who answered the door at Harris' home said he didn't know where she was or how to contact her. A woman who answered the phone at Parker's home said Parker was not taking calls. Attempts to reach Myers, who is the daughter of Perez, were not immediately successful.
Joseph Smack, a spokesman for the state Division of Family Services, said Hands of our Future opened in January 2011, has a staff of 20 and was operating at its capacity of 69 children when it was last inspected on Jan. 30.
Officials substantiated a complaint received in February 2011 that a child at the day care center who should have received prescribed medication did not receive it. The inspection earlier this year uncovered five minor compliance issues.
Smack said all day care workers in Delaware are required to undergo criminal background checks.
Court records indicate that Perez was arrested in 2004 and charged with assault, offensive touching, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief, but the charges were dropped. Officials in the attorney general's office were unable to say Tuesday why the charges were dropped.
But they did confirm that Perez, known as Teresa Myers at the time, pleaded guilty to theft in 1990 in a case that apparently involved welfare fraud.