Two former Southampton day care workers have been acquitted of charges they abused children in their charge, one of them accused of force-feeding a toddler and the other of having “slammed” a child to the ground.
Southampton Town Justice Court Judge Gary J. Weber, in separate nonjury decisions rendered Dec. 23, ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove the charges against Kathleen W. Culver, 35, of Southampton, and Sarah M. Dawber, 25, of Mastic Beach. Records of those decisions were obtained Wednesday.
Each woman was arrested by Southampton Town police in September 2015, each charged with one count of child endangerment, each accused in a complaint lodged by a former co-worker at Side By Side Child Care on North Sea Road.
The attorneys for both women said Thursday the verdicts were bittersweet to them because it was a high-profile case that ruined their reputations and led the to day care’s shutdown.
Dawber is “relieved it’s over, but she’s still incredibly upset that these parents would think that she would ever hurt” their daughter, said attorney Colin Astarita of Southampton Village. “Instead of saying ‘Yea, I can get back to work’ . . . her first question was ‘Do you think now they believe and know I didn’t do it?’ ”
Culver’s attorney, Melissa Aguanno of Sag Harbor, said her client is happy to move on, but “it did affect her and will affect her for the rest of her life.”
According to the complaint, Culver was arrested and charged after Lori Marin, who was called in to work “as needed,” alleged the defendant took a 18-month-old child and “forcefully” threw him to the ground, hitting his head on the ground while in her care in December 2014.
In the complaint against Dawber, Kennedy Williams alleged the defendant had “maltreated” a young girl during an incident in August 2015 — an incident the court said Williams reported directly to a parent of the child.
According to news accounts of the arrest of Dawber, the defendant was accused of placing her hand on the infant girl’s forehead while forcing food into her mouth until she vomited.
At the time, Dawber told investigators Culver had taught her to “push their head and hold it, then put the food in their mouth” when children didn’t want to eat. She told police that Culver also taught her a technique called “jacking the kids up” — pushing them down — when they misbehaved.
Astarita said it just meant that children running around or misbehaving were placed “firmly” in their seats. He said no child was force fed and no one vomited.
In his decisions, Weber found that neither Marin nor Williams reported the alleged incidents to the relevant authorities within 24 hours, as required by law. In fact, Weber found, Marin testified she was “unaware” that she was required to do so and had, in fact, waited “some eight months” to make any such complaint — which she did in a statement to a Southampton police detective on Aug. 28, 2015.
Weber noted that the infant alleged to have been abused by Culver had a Child Protective Services case worker assigned to him at the time of the alleged incident and that “no one has testified as to any injury to [the child] whatsoever in December 2014 or at any other time.”