Murdock’s suspension from the Cody Child Development Center at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall came after federal prosecutors charged two caregivers with assault for allegedly striking 2-year-olds in plain view of surveillance cameras. That probe triggered a personnel review that established that the Army failed to identify issues that should have prevented 38 employees from being hired as child guardians.
The Pentagon subsequently announced a review of personnel screening at military day-care centers worldwide. President Obama called the secretary of the Army to express concern.
The theft allegations against Murdock have incensed some parents who send their children to the center at the Army base, known as Fort Myer. They say the Army has not been transparent with them about the findings of its investigation into management problems at the center.
“Our fighting men and women are handing over their children to spend more time with these providers than anyone else,” said Air Force Maj. Rock Rockenbach, a former military prosecutor whose children had attended the center in recent years. “This increases the need for parents to know what types of things the people who have been taking care of our kids have been charged with and what they have been doing.”
George Wright, a spokesman for the Army, said he could not say when military officials became aware of the allegations of embezzlement from the charter school. Citing an ongoing probe into management shortcomings at the center, Wright said he also could not say whether the Army called references before hiring Murdock as assistant director of the center in August 2009. She was promoted to director that fall, overseeing the care of more than 400 military children.
An Army official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing probe said the service did not suspend Murdock as a result of the D.C. criminal probe, which was not public when she was dismissed.
Wanda J. Dixon, an attorney representing Murdock in the criminal case, said her client would have no comment. The U.S. attorney’s office in the District said an initial hearing date has not yet been set.
Court records and documents from the D.C. Public Charter School Board that have been in the public domain for years suggest that Murdock’s departure in October 2008 from the Nia Community Public Charter School in Southeast Washington, which she opened in 2006, was less than amicable.
Murdock sued the school in 2009, claiming wrongful termination. The complaint says the school’s board of trustees “began to implement African-centered Baptist practices” at Nia, which Murdock argued was unlawful. The suit says Murdock was “fired” from the school on Nov. 3, 2008, for unspecified “misrepresentation.” The real reason, she said, was her objection to the religious practices. She said in the suit that the school owed her $15,064 in untaken vacation and sick leave. Murdock demanded $1 million for “pain, suffering and emotional distress.” The suit was settled before it went to trial, court records show.
The school’s charter was later revoked for its failure to develop a curriculum and its poor academic performance, according to an April 2011 letter by D.C. Public Charter School Board Chair Brian W. Jones. The letter said the school was placed on probation in July 2010, when it “appeared to be on the verge of insolvency due to questionable use/misallocation of funds nearly three years ago by a former employee.”
A school board spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether the employee referenced in the letter was Murdock. The timing is consistent with the allegations in the federal court filing that outlines Murdock’s alleged embezzlement.
Murdock was eager to open Nia in 2006, saying in an interview at the time that “it would be awesome” to break ground at the Baptist church annex where the school would open.
At the time, she had custody of a foster child, who is now an adult and is referenced in the court filing only by the person’s initials, D.N. Between March and August 2008, prosecutors allege, Murdock, then the executive director of the school, wrote checks totaling $29,000 from the school’s bank account made out to the foster child. Murdock then transferred $28,900 to bank accounts in her name, according to the court document. The foster child told investigators he or she never received any of those funds, according to prosecutors.
The Rev. Willie Wilson, the former chair of the board of trustees at Nia, said Friday he was surprised to learn that Murdock went on to work for the Army.
“They didn’t reach out to me” for a reference check, he said. He said he couldn’t comment on what sort of reference he would have provided. But he noted: “She was dismissed, so it wasn’t that amicable.”
Julie Tate and Emma Brown contributed to this report.