CINCINNATI — A Cincinnati day care should remain closed amid a child abuse investigation, according to a report and recommendation sent to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS). Hearing Examiner Shakeba DuBose wrote the recommendation following a hearing between the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Small Kids Adventures Learning Center II.
The day care's attorney, Carl Lewis, asked for the hearing in front of a non-partial examiner after ODJFS ordered the day care to shut down in March. An entity is entitled to that if operators want to appeal a JFS suspension. ODJFS suspended the center's operating license in March after police and JFS investigators said surveillance video showed several instances of abuse, non-compliance and mistreatment of children.
So, a hearing took place virtually May 6 with examiner DuBose. Following the hearing, DuBose recommended continuing to suspend the license of Small Kids Adventures Learning Center II.
In DuBose's analysis of the hearing, she wrote that surveillance video snapshots show Kristian Hemmitt hitting, smacking, grabbing, slamming, throwing and pushing a child. Police arrested her in March when they said video shows her ripping a 1-year-old's hair out.
"Moreover, video footage (and still shots captured from the video) from dates prior to the March 3, 2022 incident with Child 1 clearly demonstrate either a failure to review the footage on a regular basis, or worse, a failure to take remedial action after reviewing prohibited staff behavior in the video footage," wrote DuBose.
Further, DuBose said footage shows the administrator standing within inches of the staff member and child as the staff member "mishandles the child."
DuBose said the center's failure to take action created a serious risk that exposed children to Hemmitt and two other unnamed employees. The recommendation does not name those employees because they have not been charged with any crime at this time.
During the hearing, the assistant attorney general arguing on behalf of JFS is Kelly Richardson, while attorney Carl Lewis represented the day care. A recap of the hearing can be found below:
In her opening statement, Richardson argued the license suspension should remain in effect unless the public children services entity completes its investigation, determines all allegations are unsubstantiated, all criminal charges are dismissed and JFS terminates the suspension.
Richardson called two JFS employees as witnesses: Kim Sauermann and Trentae Taylor.
“The reason for the suspension is something very serious happened to a child in care, a child received significant injury as well as based on, upon, review of video footage of the center, one classroom of the center," Taylor said. "We observed several staff members inappropriately guiding and managing children.”
Taylor told the examiner staff members are not allowed to “physically discipline children, hit children, grab children, throw children, strike children, yell at children, isolate children, restrain children," but noted that is what she saw occur on surveillance video from inside the facility.
Sauermann backed up that testimony and named three employees that she said took part. One of those, Kristian Hemmitt, is in jail facing child abuse charges after police said video showed her, in one instance, rip a 1-year-old’s hair out.
“We got information from the police department that there had been numerous, I believe the wording was hundreds of instances, some of them, most of them, still with Ms. Hemmitt. However, there were other staff, other children, involved,” Sauermann said. “I have never, again, never seen someone do this with children in a child care setting. It’s very disturbing.”
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Lewis did not call any witnesses but said the AG’s office only brought still frame photos from the surveillance video and that witnesses were only testifying based on memory.
“The still shots do not give the entire picture,” Lewis said.
Lewis said no employees outside of Hemmitt have been indicted at this time. He said the day care owner and administrator should be credited for bringing the abuse to the attention of authorities, and he said those in charge were not seen on camera abusing children. JFS workers said administrators were on camera witnessing some of the abuse and not intervening.
“The suspension is inappropriate given that any criminal allegations or any indictments that are currently in place were done in a direct result of Small Kids Adventures Learning Center LLC being completely forthright and cooperative with law enforcement,” Lewis said.
DuBose's analysis acknowledged that the day care fired Hemmitt in a timely manner. However, DuBose said Ohio law requires the suspension to remain in place unless the public children services agency completes its investigation and determines that all allegations are unsubstantiated, all criminal charges are disposed of through dismissal or finding of a not guilty or JFS terminates the suspension.
Both sides have the chance to object to DuBose's recommendation before it is finalized.
The day care filed an appeal in the Hamilton County court system in April.