Two Southampton day care workers force-fed and "slammed" infants to the ground -- with one of the workers telling police it was routine practice, according to court papers released Tuesday.
The employees at Side By Side Child Care on North Sea Road are each charged with one count of child endangerment, Southampton Town police said.
Sarah M. Dawber, 23, of Patchogue and Kathleen W. Culver, 33, of Southampton, who identified themselves as teachers, cared for children as young as 3 months in the center's infant room, according to police.DataLI crime stats
Dawber is accused of grabbing an 18-month-old girl's head and forcing food into her mouth, "causing the child to gag and eventually vomit," according to court papers.
Police said Culver threw an 18-month-old boy to the floor, "causing his head to hit the ground."
No other injuries were reported, police said. The defendants, arrested Friday on the misdemeanor charges, are scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 16.
Southampton police Lt. Susan Ralph said the investigation was triggered by "internal calls as well as parental calls" complaining about forceful treatment of infants at the center.
The calls to detectives indicated that the abuse was "ongoing," Ralph said.
Police, joined by officials from the state Office of Children and Family Services and Suffolk County Child Protective Services, investigated the allegations during a five-hour visit to the day care Friday, Ralph said.
"It was confirmed that the abuse did occur," she said.
The state agency said in a statement it is "actively investigating" the day care. Police said Culver and Dawber are no longer employed at the center.
The center's owners did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.
The business, which remains open pending the investigation, was licensed in 2007 for up to 134 children -- 16 infants, 24 toddlers and 94 preschool-age children -- according to state records.
Parents Tuesday defended the day care and the employees accused of abuse.
"These people are extremely well-educated, and extremely fantastic people with the kids," said Jan Sisak of Southampton after dropping off his 3-year-old daughter.
Amanda Krzenski, 40, of Southampton said Culver has cared for her 4-year-old daughter since she was an infant.
"I would leave my children with her tomorrow," Krzenski, whose 5-year-old daughter also once attended. "This is one of the best decisions I made for my children."
Dawber's attorney, Colin Astarita of Southampton, blamed the allegations on a former employee who recently quit "without explanation."
"It is our position that these are baseless allegations without any evidence to support them," he said in a statement.
No one answered the door at Culver's home. It was not immediately known whether she had an attorney.
According to court papers, Kennedy Williams, 20, an employee who quit on Aug. 25, told police she saw Dawber place her hand on the infant girl's forehead and force pieces of food into the child's mouth.
A current employee, Lori Martin, said she saw Culver repeatedly kick a screaming boy's highchair when the infant didn't want to eat. "She finally got so frustrated, she pulled him out of his high chair really hard . . . and slammed him on the ground, hitting his head."
Dawber, an employee since 2014, told investigators she started as an assistant under Culver, a 12-year employee, who taught her a technique to deal with misbehavior called "jacking the kids up."
"What this consists of is when a child goes to do something wrong, you physically push them down. I saw Kathleen do this to a lot of kids," she said.
Dawber also told police: "I was not really comfortable with doing it but I thought it was the normal way things got done."
She said Culver also taught her to "push their head and hold it, then put the food in their mouth" when children didn't want to eat in their high chairs.
"I wish I had been taught a different way of dealing with things," she told police.