Former day care worker at Marine base in Arizona pleads guilty to child abuse, endangerment
Stars and Stripes April 17, 2023
A former day care worker at a Marine Corps base in Arizona pleaded guilty to abusing 1-year-old children in her care by dragging, kicking and throwing toys at them, according to Yuma County court documents.
Valerie McKinstry, 29, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felony counts of child abuse and 11 misdemeanor counts of child endangerment for her behavior with the children between December 2020 and March 2021 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, according to court documents.
The classroom where McKinstry worked with 1-year-old children was under video surveillance — standard practice at Defense Department child development centers — and the base provided the Yuma Police Department with 78 videos of possible abuse, according to the 100-page police report.
McKinstry is seen on the videos hitting a young boy with his own hand repeatedly, forcefully shoving a child’s chair into a table, carrying a child by just an arm or leg, shoving a chair into a child from behind, shaking a child’s chair repeatedly, handling children roughly so their bodies strike furniture, and throwing toys at children hitting them in the face or body, among many other accusations described by police.
A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled, according to the county’s online court records.
Police identified 15 child victims in their review of videos, according to the report.
Katherine McCombs, 29, worked alongside McKinstry and is also charged with seven counts of child abuse, according to online court records. Her case is still pending in Yuma County Superior Court.
A third child care worker is identified in police reports as a suspect but is not facing charges at this time, according to court records.
One parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her son is still struggling with the abuse that he experienced at the hands of McKinstry and McCombs.
“It was just a lot of talking with the teachers about what happened to him and having them create that bond with him,” she said. “When he gets hurt, even now, he does not really seek comfort, because in that classroom if you were crying or you were hurt, you got jacked up.”
Yuma police arrested McKinstry on March 2, 2021, and MCAS Yuma officials placed her on administrative leave on the same day, said Capt. Brett Vannier, spokesman for the base. Her employment was officially terminated April 17, 2021.
The base assigned personnel from outside the child development center to review past video recordings from the previous 60 days “to identify, document and report any possible instances of physical abuse, neglect or other inappropriate caregiver behavior,” Vannier said.
A team of senior leaders then reviewed the reports and provided all evidence to police, he said.
This is the only case within the Marine Corps where a former employee was charged and later convicted of child abuse or endangerment in a civilian court, said Yvonne Carlock, a spokeswoman for the Marine Corps.
“The Marine Corps has written policy and procedures on the prevention of child abuse and require initial and annual in-person training. All staff receive training and are continuously monitored by closed-circuit television and regularly observed by management to ensure they are following policy for positive guidance and appropriate touch,” she said. “There is a very low threshold for staff removal if found to be in violation of these policies.”
Considering the abuse, MCAS Yuma now requires curriculum specialists and trainer assistants review live and recorded video feeds from each classroom every week at unannounced times, Vannier said. Child and Youth Program leaders must conduct additional reviews.
The staff at the child care facilities were required to take a training course consisting of approximately 26 different subjects such as developmentally appropriate practices, appropriate touch policy and procedures, child safety, and others.
During the investigation, MCAS Yuma also reviewed about 20 hours of random video samples from each of the other classrooms in the day care to ensure the abuse was not a systemic problem, base officials said.