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3 preschool employees fired in Atsugi child-abuse case

Sep. 12, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Navy fired three staffers at a Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, preschool Wednesday in the wake of a child-abuse investigation triggered by a co-worker’s complaint. The employees can appeal their letters of termination, but the father at the center of the case says the move doesn’t go far enough.

Aviation Structural Mechanic (AW) 1st Class Bruce Seymore’s 4-year-old daughter was one of four children mentioned in a report on the investigation he provided to Navy Times, as well as to Stars and Stripes, which first reported the terminations. The employees’ names were not released because they are not facing criminal charges, base spokesman Greg Kuntz said.

Investigators reviewed the child development center’s video surveillance tapes and found separate incidents over a two-week span in July of unnamed CDC employees stepping on the girl’s leg and striking her with their hands; in a July 15 incident, the report says, an employee “is observed pulling a chair out from under [the girl] and while the victim is on the ground, strikes [her] with a chair,” according to the report. Seymore acquired the report via a Freedom of Information Act request.

An employee reported the July 15 incident immediately. The investigation began the same day, Kuntz said, and would expand to “three additional child victims,” per the report. The three employees — out of about 50 at the center — immediately were moved into jobs that did not put them in direct contact with children, Kuntz said, and remained there throughout the investigation.

Law enforcement officials reviewed the investigation and decided not to charge the workers with criminal acts, Kuntz said. The report went to Capt. Steven Wieman, the base commander, at the end of July; he made the decision to issue the termination letters, Kuntz said, but does not have the power to request or issue any further punishment because the workers are civilians.

“While it was determined that none of the incidents escalated to criminal behavior ... some actions did violate child care facility standards and disciplining procedures,” Kuntz said in a statement.

Seymore said he’s considering legal action and that the Navy has not done enough, in his eyes, to find “justice” in the situation. He’s seeking a lawyer, he said, but has yet to hire one.

“The Navy, from the get-go, decided this wasn’t going to be a big deal,” he said.

'I didn't want to believe her'

The single father, a 17-year sailor assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 51, said his daughter has been at the day care since 2010, when the family arrived in Japan. He said she began exhibiting more aggressive behavior at home about 18 months ago — behavior that continued at the CDC, according to the investigation.

He said he’d received no injury reports following any of the incidents caught on videotape, up to and including the one on July 15, when his daughter told him that a teacher had struck her with a chair. “I really didn’t want to believe her,” he said in an interview. “It sounded so absurd. But then I get the video report and it’s right there.”

He eventually filed a report with the Navy Region Japan inspector general’s office; a reply dated Aug. 30 that he provided to Navy Times states that the complaint “is not appropriate for IG action at this time” because it is “pending command action.”

Asked whether he would refile the complaint now that Wieman had acted, Seymore said he wasn’t sure what good it would do.

“I don’t think filing an appeal is going to get me anywhere,” he said. “It sounds like the IG already made a determination.”

The town hall

Seymore said some of the employees who received termination letters had told him they treated the girl “like their own daughter” — a claim repeated in the report.

And while he said he’d received no reports of bad behavior during her time at the CDC, Wieman told a town-hall meeting of CDC parents Thursday night that there “is documentation of at least one of the children ... having a history of bad behavior,” said Kuntz, who attended the meeting with about two dozen other people.

Kuntz, in confirming an account of the meeting given by Seymore, said the remark came in response to another parent asking, “What do the employees do to protect our children? Are they trained to restrain a child if another child is doing something?”

The CO spoke to CDC workers after the town hall, Kuntz said. About 150 children are under full-time care at the center, with part-time attendance reaching about 200, he said.

Seymore’s daughter has since left the CDC and attends a pre-kindergarten program at an on-base elementary school, he said, adding, “I think she’s in great hands now.”

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