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3 fired for conduct at Atsugi base preschool

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Three employees of a preschool at Naval Air Facility Atsugi have been fired for physically abusing children, officials said.

An investigation of alleged abuse at the Child Development Center’s preschool began July 15 after a worker reported incidents to the director.

“While it was determined that none of the incidents escalated to criminal behavior, it was determined that some actions did violate child care facility standards and disciplining procedures,” Greg Kuntz, a spokesman for the base, said in a written statement Wednesday to Stars and Stripes. “Based on the findings of the review a decision to issue termination letters to three employees was made.”

During the investigation the three employees were reassigned to positions that did not involve direct contact with children, Kuntz said. They will now be notified of termination, an administrative decision they have the right to appeal.

Because the action is administrative rather than legal, the base will not disclose the employees’ names, he said.

At least one parent whose child was abused, however, isn’t satisfied with the decision to not prosecute.

“I don’t understand,” said Bruce Seymore, a sailor stationed at Atsugi whose 4-year-old daughter attends the preschool. “If I had done those things, I would have been arrested and out of the Navy already and on the cover of Stars and Stripes.”

Seymore, a single parent, said he received a call in July from an investigator at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on the base who informed him that his daughter, as well as other children at the preschool, had been abused.

Seymore subsequently requested through the Freedom of Information Act a copy of the NCIS investigative report concerning his daughter.

The heavily redacted report, which Seymore shared with Stars and Stripes, describes several incidents of abuse to his daughter, most of which were recorded on the CDC’s video monitors.

The report states that three other children were also victims of abuse.

Among the incidents involving Seymore’s daughter that investigators found on tape were:

  • An employee pulling a chair from out under her, causing her to fall to the floor. The employee then struck her in the head with the chair. The girl was “left lying on the floor holding her head crying.”
  • An employee grabbing her off a couch, dragging her to a sink and forcing her to wash her hands.
  • An employee striking her on the head while on playground equipment.
  • An employee “grabbing, pulling and dragging” her away from another worker, during which the girl’s head strikes a couch “with enough force to move the couch.” The employee then “drops” her to the floor “and steps on her leg twice before leaving the victim on the floor crying isolated and unattended.”
  • An employee “forcibly pushing” her into a sink.

Not all alleged acts of abuse described by witnesses were found on video. One witness told investigators that “gaps in surveillance coverage of certain areas on the compound was widely known by employees of the CDC.”

One witness told investigators of an incident during which Seymore’s daughter was crying because the sleeves of her shirt had been tied together. As the girl approached one of the employees, the worker grabbed her “by the shoulders aggressively and shook her.” Investigators could not find the incident on tape.

The investigation states that all three employees felt they could treat Seymore’s child like a “’daughter’ of their own” because she “didn’t have a mother.”

One witness employed at the CDC told investigators she didn’t intervene during one particular abusive act “because she was new and did not want to be scrutinized by the other caregivers.”

The investigative report said that parents contacted about the alleged abuse said they had not seen any bruises or injuries on their children. The report noted that several of the children were too young to be able to provide statements.

olson.wyatt@stripes.com
 

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