Mother Sues Over Texas Day Care ‘Fight Club’

     CONROE, Texas (CN) – Texas day care workers made 4-year-old boys fight on the playground and put the footage on social media, a mother claims in court.
     Heather Howerton says she enrolled her two kids in Children’s Universe of Lake Conroe in 2013 based on its staff’s experience and alleged “commitment to safety.”
     She got an unwelcome early Christmas present from Texas officials on Dec. 8, 2014, she says.
     “Howerton was contacted by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to inform her they received videos of children fighting at Children’s Universe that included her 4-year-old son, Greyson Howerton. The videos apparently were posted on social media sites,” Howerton says in the lawsuit she filed on Sept. 24.
     Houston’s ABC affiliate KTRK put the gut-wrenching footage on its website. It shows two towheaded boys – one wearing a Batman T-shirt, the other a replica J.J. Watt jersey – kicking, punching and wrestling by a jungle gym slide.
     Howerton says she rushed to the day care and the staff refused to show her the video, though they admitted they knew about it three days before she got the phone call from state officials.
     “It was revealed that Children’s Universe employees, encouraged, promoted and instigated the fights and would even sickeningly yell at a four-years-olds, after being pummeled, to get back up and fight,” the lawsuit states.
     Howerton says her 6-year-old daughter saw her brother fighting and yelled for help, but the staff kept filming.
     Ashlee Minchew used to teach at the day care. She told KTRK she leaked the video because she was angry Children’s Universe fired her over another incident.
     Howerton’s lawsuit doesn’t name Minchew or any individual as a defendant.
     She wants punitive damages and medical expenses for gross negligence, deceptive trade, negligent hiring and negligence.
     Children’s Universe did not respond to a comment request from Courthouse News but its owner Brooke Leax issued a statement to KTRK.
     “At the present time, we have not been made aware of any lawsuit. The incident in question occurred close to a year ago and was first reported to the authorities by myself and our director. We cooperated 100 percent in the investigation which was closed by the police and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services several weeks later. The employee in question had been terminated for unrelated reasons prior to the initial report.”
     The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office investigated Minchew but the district attorney declined to press charges, KTRK reported.
     The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services cited Children’s Universe 13 times for “deficiencies” between Jan. 21, 2014 and March 3 for minutia like how it labeled children’s bottles and one of its vans was missing scissors, the agency’s records show.
     There is no reference to the fight club investigation in the list of citations or anywhere in the day care’s file.
     An agency employee said, “Sometimes there may be a lag in posting things because they will typically allow the investigation to occur and then allow for any appeals available to the operation before they post the entire thing on the website.”

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