A FlaglerLive Investigation
On July 17 (last Wednesday), a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to Roma Court Academy, the child care center on Palm Coast Parkway. A Department of Children and Families investigator was at the academy, investigating an anonymous report of a child allegedly battered by an employee.
It was the second incident reported to the Department of Children and Families within 48 hours, for a total of three cases investigated. Two of the three are still open investigation, with no information yet available about either.
Xiomara Mara Quinones, a 51-year-old resident of Post Oak Lane in Palm Coast, faced an accusation that she “grabbed the arm of one of her students in an aggressive manor and slung him on the floor.” The child is 3. The incident is alleged to have taken place on July 15 near the doors to the school’s cafeteria, and was recorded live by a surveillance camera within the building.
“The anonymous complainant, who is an employee at Roma Court Academy, took a cell phone video of the live video footage of the incident,” and provided to an investigator, according to the sheriff’s incident report. That video would become instrumental in a separate issue, because the academy’s own footage of the alleged incident, or any footage from that day’s surveillance cameras, was deleted.
“A ‘video of the video,'” an arrest report states, “was taken by a Roma Court employee, who stated that they believed if they did not record the video, administration/ownership would ensure that it was never seen by the Florida Department of Children and Families and/or law enforcement.”
Watching the video provided, the investigator reported, “I observed Xiomara standing near the cafeteria doors. I also observed [the 3-year-old boy] who appeared to be walking back into the cafeteria, in the opposite direction of his classmates. It appears that Xiomara grabs [the boy] and then [the boy] is seen forcefully falling down on the tile floor, as if he was slung down purposefully.”
Late Tuesday (July 23), the sheriff’s office filed a felony child abuse charge against Quinones and forwarded it to the State Attorney’s office, which will determine whether to pursue the charge in court. Quinones was not arrested.
In September 2016, Roma Court Academy was investigated after a 3-year-old child was found wandering into traffic on nearby Palm Coast Parkway until a driver stopped, picked up the child and called deputies. School personnel was unaware of the child’s disappearance until contacted about it by a Chinese food delivery driver. No disciplinary action followed, at least from law enforcement’s perspective.
Established in 2015, Roma Court Academy does not list its owner on its website’s staff list, listing only its program director, classroom teachers and an office employee. William Gerrell is listed on the incident report as “owner.” Contacted by phone, Yaritza Yary Perez, the program director, initially said “no” when asked if Quinones was working today, then said she would have to refer the call to “my boss.” Asked for his or her name, Perez said she could not give out that information herself. DCF’s inspection reports list Perez as the “Owner/Director/Staff Responsible.” Gerrell did not return the call before this story initially published.
According to the Florida Division of Corporations, Roma Court Academy is registered to National Learning Academy in Wilmington, Del., and represented by attorney Mike Riley of Gray Robinson in Tallahassee. Riley did not return a call before this story initially published.
In the alleged child abuse incident, Quinones, who’s been employed six months at the academy, told investigators she’d been “having issues” with the boy in question and that “she believes [he] has behavioral issues,” according to the incident report. She said “all he does is cry all day.”
That Monday, Quinones told the DCF investigator, the boy came to class and was crying and yelling all day. He’d been walking back into the cafeteria, going the wrong direction. Quinones, according to the report, “stated that she was frustrated at the time with [the boy]’s behavior and the fact that he was crying nonstop, so she placed three of her fingers behind his back to redirect him the other way, and when she did this, she states that tripped on his own.”
Her arrest report states that the “trajectory with which the victim falls is inconsistent with a child falling on their own, and appears that it would have been more consistent with being pushed/pulled/or flung by an adult.”
In a written statement, she said she helped the boy off of the floor to make sure he was okay. “However, while speaking with [Quinones], she stated that after [the boy] fell she backed away with her hands in the air because he has been aggressive towards her in the past.”
She did not complete an accident/ incident report. She told investigators she did not do so because “she did not believe [the boy] was hurt, so she figured that she did not need to report the incident,” though he was crying after the fall.
A cafeteria employee told authorities she witnessed the incident, but said she was unsure if Quinones grabbed or pushed the boy. The employee said Quinones “did not attempt to help up or see if he was okay.” The employee walked over to the boy and tried to calm him down. When the employee confronted Quinones about the incident, Quinones told her the boy had fallen on his own. It was the cafeteria employee who completed an accident/incident report. That employee “also appeared nervous to speak about what she witnessed due to fear of retaliation from the staff.”
Gerrell, 45, whose address is listed as Hickory Hill lane in Dade City, spoke with investigators, according to the incident report. He’d reviewed the video on his cell phone after being made aware of the issue by his staff members. He said “he not see anything wrong with how [Quinones] handled with situation with the boy,” according to the report. “He also stated that he believes has behavioral issues.”
Gerrell “didn’t think a report needed to be done,” since the cafeteria employee filled one out. But when asked for a copy of that report, Gerrell said he could not find it. When asked if he had the video surveillance of the incident, he told investigators “it automatically deletes itself after twenty four hours and had no way to get the video.” Surveillance video footage was, in fact, “either deleted or ‘written over’ and was not available for law enforcement,” according to the suspect’s arrest report.
“When I approached the Daycare director [and] asked to review the video and obtain a copy of the incident report,” the child’s parent told FlaglerLive, “he stated the video footage deleted mysteriously and the incident report was misplaced. He tried to persuade me that nothing happened to my child when the footage proves otherwise according to DCF and Law Enforcement. He is untruthful and unaligned with children as he wanted other workers to side with him and they wouldn’t.”
When asked if parents were notified of the incident, Gerrell said “he assumed they were” by a front-desk employee, “but never followed up to verify. It was later determined that ’s parents were not notified, until DCF contacted them.” He was initially willing to complete a written statement but then was dissuaded by his attorney from doing so. The arrest report states that Gerrell allegedly tried to get the front-desk employee to agree with him–that the boy was not pushed–but that the employee refused to go along.
The 3-year-old child’s mother withdrew her son from Roma Court Academy immediately. She’d never been contacted or made aware of the incident by Roma Court staff, according to the report. She told an investigator that when she picked up her son, Gerrell told her the incident “wasn’t a big deal.”
On the two nights immediately following the alleged incident, the boy, who’s been potty trained for a year, wet his bed both nights, which his mother found to be unusual. She had not learned of the incident yet. When she prepared to drop her son off at Roma Court on July 17, he did not want to go to his classroom. She left the boy with the front desk employee and went to work. She was later contacted by DCF and told of the incident. The child was examined by doctors at Halifax hospital in Daytona Beach and found to have no physical injuries, but doctors recommended counseling for him.
As a licensed child care facility, Roma Court is regularly inspected by DFC. It has been inspected three times so far this year, the last time on June 28. That inspection went well, with no findings. That was not the case with two previous inspections.
On Feb. 11, DCF inspected the facility–which had 52 children present at the time–specifically to investigate a communicable disease issue. The inspection concluded that ” The facility failed to report a suspected communicable disease outbreak for two or more children or adults within 72 hours to the local county health department and failed to follow directions given.” The inspection further noted: “Correction of the violation occurred at the time of inspection in that during the initial complaint investigation on 2/11/2019, The director [Yaritza Yary Perez] was able to report the outbreak to the Health Department representative who was present with counselor at that time. Corrective action will consist of a parent teacher meeting with the Health Department representative providing a small seminar regarding Communicable Disease Control at the facility and in the home. A written agenda of the meeting and written list of teachers in attendance will be documented at the next inspection.”
The matter was found to be in compliance at an inspection weeks later, though other issues were uncovered.
A three-and-a-half hour inspection on Feb. 21 found the food preparation requirements out of compliance, though all issues were resolved during the inspection. Storage and management of bottles, breastmilk and formula brought by parents for storage and use at the facility was also found to be out of compliance, with bottles not labeled with children’s names (the issue appeared to affect sippy cups particularly). The facility also got a violation for its outdoor playground equipment’s safety not being in compliance. All issues were resolved at the time of the inspection.
Inspections revealed non-compliance issues at six of 15 inspections between 2016 and 2018.