Employee at troubled military child-care center on Va. base accused of assaulting kids

A caregiver at a child-care center on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall was charged Thursday with simple assault against a child after investigators said they had uncovered several incidents in which the woman hit or pushed young children in her care.

The misdemeanor federal charge against Va Nessa Taylor, 47, of Temple Hills, Md., is the latest in a string of cases in recent years involving employees at the Northern Virginia military base’s Cody Child Development Center. Investigators alleged similar abuses by two civilian employees of the center in late 2012 — misdeeds that helped spark a worldwide review of hiring practices at military child-care centers.

The center, which cares for infants and school-aged children, serves military and civilian families who work at the Pentagon, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and throughout the D.C. region, and it is the largest facility of its kind, authorities said.

The alleged misdeeds came to light in January, when two other caregivers at the center reported that Taylor had withheld food from a 2-year-old during lunch, according to an affidavit. Investigators reviewed video footage and confirmed not only that Taylor had withheld food, but also that she had “hit several children,” according to the affidavit.

Investigators reviewed old footage and uncovered many more incidents in which Taylor assaulted children, according to the affidavit. On Nov. 26, according to the affidavit, she hit a 2-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl in the head after a snack bowl was accidentally knocked off a table. On Dec. 6, she “vigorously shook and rotated the arm” of a 2-year-old boy, according to the affidavit. And Dec. 13, she pushed an 18-month-old boy in the face and swatted his head, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit says that Taylor invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when confronted by investigators. Efforts to reach Taylor and her family members were unsuccessful.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia, which is handling the case, said in a news release that the alleged abuse by Taylor “did not appear to result in sustained physical injury to the children.” The release said Taylor — who was issued a summons to appear in court April 8 — was removed from her duties supervising children Jan. 30, immediately after her conduct was reported to base authorities.

A base spokeswoman declined to comment, referring a reporter to the Justice Department.

The allegations against Taylor are remarkably similar to those lodged against two of the center’s civilian employees in late 2012. Both were convicted and sentenced to probation.

Those cases sparked an investigation of hiring practices that identified more than 30 base staffers who officials said should have been barred from contact with children. All of them were suspended, officials have said. Officials later said that seven employees at bases other than Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall were also barred from unsupervised contact with children as a result of a worldwide review.

The Army Times reported last February that the Cody center had lost its accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. An Army spokesman said at the time that the measure did not affect operations at the center, and Army officials were appealing the decision. Barbara Willer, the National Association for the Education of Young Children's deputy executive director, said the center was now accredited, but specifically how and when it re-earned that accreditation was confidential.

Taylor’s case also is the second involving alleged misdeeds at a child-care center brought by prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia in recent days. On Wednesday, they unsealed a case against the husband of a day-care operator in Dumfries, Va., that alleged the husband was using his wife’s facility as a site to sell oxycodone and other drugs.

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Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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