CROCKETT, Texas (KETK) – Seven families have filed lawsuits against Treehouse Academy, a day care in Crockett, alleging neglect and abuse of their children in 2020.
The families are being represented by Woodlands law firm Leger Ketchum & Cohoon, PLLC. They filed a complaint in a Montgomery County District Court against Treehouse Academy, according to our NBC affiliate KPRC.
The lawsuit says that several employees at the day care verbally and physically abused children, did not meet the minimum requirements for a child care center required by the State of Texas and failed to hire qualified staff, train existing staff and adequately manage and supervise staff members.
According to the lawsuit, the children “are experiencing significant separation anxiety, developmental regression, significant distress, and anxiety, among other things.” The lawsuit also claims that the psychological impact on the children is severe and has caused the families great stress emotionally and financially.
The trial is set for April 2022 and the families are seeking at least $1 million in damages.
The Treehouse Academy, owned and operated by Lindsay Rice, was cited by the State of Texas several times for failing to meet minimum childcare center standards. According to a review done by KPRC, the center was cited 12 times in the last five years. Half of those citations were in 2020 and included prohibited punishments, defined by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as harsh, cruel or unusual punishments such as spanking, hitting or shaking.
There was an incident of abuse reported to Crockett police in April 2020 that resulted in some of the center’s deficiencies. Paula Mendez, an employee at Treehouse Academy, told officers that her then two-year-old son was “crying a lot and acting different” for several weeks, according to a police incident report. Mendez was suspicious “that something was happening or being done to her child,” so she requested to review the surveillance footage from inside her son’s classroom.
When she watched the video, Mendez observed a teacher “spanking and handling her son in a rough manner.” The teacher in question told officers when interviewed that she handled the child that way out of frustration, also stating that she did not know the day care’s policy on discipline and had never been given a handbook or any formal training, claiming she was “just thrown in a classroom,” according to the police incident report.
Mendez contacted the authorities again days later, stating she saw several occasions of possible abuse of children when further reviewing footage from the day care. Crockett police reviewed the footage and observed Treehouse Academy teachers spanking and kicking children, handling them roughly, dragging them, slapping them on their head and hands, grabbing them by their ears and talking to them inappropriately, according to the police incident report. A teacher is even seen pulling a chair out from under a child in one instance noted in the police report.
The owner provided two stacks of DVDs when offices requested all of the facility’s security footage and told them that she could not provide additional videos because the DVR hard drive crashed. Rice gave officers the hard drive and once they reviewed the footage at the Crockett Police Department, it was discovered that Rice only gave them surveillance footage from the outside of the building and none from inside the classrooms.
“Three caregivers at this facility were observed and admitted to utilizing prohibited punishment which included the following: striking with their hands on the children’s faces, arms, legs, and buttocks; twisting and pulling of the children’s ears; spanking the children on the buttocks; cursing at and in front of the children; yanking the children by their arms and clothes; slamming the children down on their nap mats; thumping the children in their heads,” according to an April 2020 Texas Health and Human Services report.
Three of the Treehouse Academy employees were arrested as a result of the investigation. One employees background check showed that she had a previous criminal record with a charge of assault and family violence. Further investigation revealed at least one other employee also had a criminal record.
“Ms. Rice stated she has installed a push-button intercom system at her facility since these investigations as well, so she can check on her staff to make sure they aren’t overwhelmed, and her staff can notify the front desk if they need assistance with anything,” according to the Texas Health and Human Services report. “The caregivers who were arrested were terminated and are no longer present at the operation in any capacity.”