By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – Killeen day care owner Jackie Haile, and her attorney Brett Pritchard contended in a hearing Friday before 169th District Court Judge Gordan Adams that the actions of a state agency had disrupted the operations of her business.
Haile, owner of Little Blessings Child Care Center, 803 N. 10th St. in Killeen, was seeking an injunction against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, alleging that the agency had interrupted the day care's operation while conducting an investigation into an alleged sexual assault.
The day care has been closed since Monday following the Feb. 29 arrest by Killeen police of a suspect with ties to the day care on the charge of aggravated sexual assault.
On Monday, Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for Protective Services, said his agency asked Little Blessings to voluntarily close during an investigation of sexual assault. The business complied, Van Deusen said.
During questioning on the stand, Haile and Pritchard said that the day care's closure was not voluntary.
The petition for a temporary injunction against the state agency states that Leslie Williams, of Protective Services, went to the day care at 5:50 p.m. Feb. 29 and asked if Haile would voluntarily close the business immediately and throughout the investigation.
The document goes on to state that Haile could not contact her attorney, and Williams then told Haile that if she came to Little Blessings the following Monday and children were there that she would have Haile call parents to come pick up their children.
"There was not a proposal to anything," Pritchard told the judge, saying Protective Services had threatened Haile into closing.
Michael Crowley, of the Texas Attorney General's office, defending the agency, disagreed with Pritchard's statements.
"There is no final order," Crowley rebutted to the judge.
Judge Gordan Adams called a recess in the hearing until 9 a.m. Monday.
Haile's petition states that by closing the business, it interfered with the 16 contracts for daily care of children. The petition also states that Protective Services published disparaging words about her business, but the hearing did not cover the specifics of that claim.
The state argued Friday morning that Little Blessings does not have the right to have the civil hearing because it has not gone through the appeals process with the state yet.
Haile and day care employee Cherrelle Jones each took the stand Friday morning.
They both testified that the suspect in question, Terrance Beard, was at the day care the day of the alleged sexual assault, but dispute that he had access to the 4-month-old girl, the alleged victim of the assault, or that he was present long enough to do anything.
Jones said she opened Little Blessings on the morning of Feb. 20 – the date of the alleged aggravated sexual assault – and was the lone employee at 5:45 a.m. when the mother of the 4-month-old victim, dropped off her daughter.
She said Beard was at the day care around 7 a.m. when he arrived with his cousin, Niesha Porter-Beard. He was there "not even five minutes that morning," Jones said. "He said he had an appointment."
Jones said Beard came back at "probably noonish" to bring lunch to employees, then returned again at about 5 p.m. to ride home with Porter-Beard.
Jones said Porter-Beard was the first to notice the bruising on the victim at about 9 a.m. during a diaper changing. Jones, who said she has taken courses in detecting child abuse, said the bruises did not cause alarm for her.
"It didn't look bad," Jones said.
Haile, who said she arrived at work at about 11:30 a.m. Feb. 20, and Jones said they did not inform the child's mother until she picked up her daughter at about 5:30 p.m.
On Feb. 25, the mother and family members picketed outside the day care while day care employees – whom Haile identified as her daughters during the hearing – hung banners on the fence surrounding the building blaming the parent for the sexual assault.
Haile denied on Feb. 25 that the suspect was an employee at the day care. She has since declined to comment for stories on the advice of her attorney.
A Feb. 29 Killeen police news release stated that a man who said he works at the day care admitted to assaulting a 4-month-old girl. Beard, 23, of Louisiana, was arraigned Feb. 29 on a charge of aggravated sexual assault to a child, and Justice of the Peace Garland Potvin set the bond at $200,000, according to the news release. Beard remains in the Bell County Jail, the jail reported Thursday.
The arrest affidavit states that a Killeen Police Department detective interviewed Beard twice. In the first interview, the affidavit states, Beard admitted he was at the day care when the baby was injured and admitted to touching her by rubbing her back.
In the second interview, three days later, the affidavit states that Beard admitted to putting his finger in the 4-month-old girl's behind; medical personnel at Fort Hood's Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center and Temple's Scott & White Hospital found bruising and lacerations around the buttocks.
Beard said in an interview with authorities that "maybe he wiped her too hard when he changed her diaper," according to the affidavit.
The arrest resulted from an investigation into injuries the mother learned about when she picked her daughter up at Little Blessings on Feb. 20.
During Friday's hearing, Haile said Beard worked at Little Blessings from August to October in 2007, but left after he found other employment. She said Beard usually rides to Little Blessings with Porter-Beard in the mornings then catches a bus downtown to go to another job.
The lawsuit states that while Beard is not employed there, he often helps with custodial and maintenance work from 5:30 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. when Porter-Beard arrives and before the bus service begins.
Haile also contends that she submitted a criminal background check on Beard before he started work in August and received no report.
On Beard's application for employment, dated Aug. 30, 2007 and a part of court filings, he left blank whether he had ever been convicted of a crime.
Van Deusen and Pritchard answered questions following Friday's hearing. Van Deusen said Little Blessings can open for business whenever it wants.
"It is a voluntary closure at this point, that's her decision (to close)," Van Deusen said.
Pritchard said because the suspect, Beard, is still in jail, there is no threat to children at the day care, but that the day care could not re-open immediately.
"Right now, she's in court," Pritchard said about why Haile won't open her doors on the next business day. "We would love to open Monday, but she's got to be in a hearing."