By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterMarch 20, 2014
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - A town hall meeting addressing recent criminal charges filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office against Cody Child Development Center caregiver Va Nessa Taylor brought nearly 20 mothers, fathers and guardians to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Spates Community Club March 18.
Taylor, a CDC employee since 1991, is alleged to have assaulted four children in her care by pulling, hitting or pushing them. On Jan. 30, two CDC employees reported to a supervisor that Taylor was observed a day before withholding food from a 2-year-old child during the facility's family-style lunch period.
Taylor has been charged with committing the offense of simple assault against a child under 16 years of age. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor under federal law. The observed conduct occurred from Nov. 26, 2013, to Jan. 29, 2014.
Presiding over the hour-long meeting were Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region/Military District of Washington Commander Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan and JBM-HH Commander Col. Fern O. Sumpter. Also on the discussion panel were Child, Youth and School Services Coordinator Dawn Thompson, CDC Director Sunny Smith, Military District of Washington Staff Judge Advocate Col. Jim Agar and Criminal Investigation Division Special Agent Christina Cherolis, who personally worked on the case.
"The bottom line is we're both shocked and saddened by the situation, but we're also determined," Buchanan said. "We're determined to see that justice is done, and we're determined to take the best possible care of our kids and ensure they have a safe environment to thrive."
Sumpter summarized that Army-wide CDC standards have become more rigorous since 2012 in an effort to increase child safety. She noted that CDC staff members signed and re-signed a standards of conduct document, took part in training and must follow a policy that requires staff to report suspect behavior. But the joint base commander mentioned one of the biggest changes at the CDC has been the overall culture.
"Leadership has been in the classrooms. They've established a relationship with the workforce," Sumpter said. "That's totally different to how it used to be before. That's the first step you take when you want to change a culture. You've got to instill trust, and I think we've done that."
One parent of a child in Taylor's room at the CDC told the panel that she did not understand how the alleged abuse could happen, adding that she never saw any indication that room 109--Taylor's assigned room of children at the CDC--was a troubled room.
Other inquiries and comments ranged from parent's claims of a lack of communication between themselves, joint base command and the CDC, requests to view surveillance videotape, and how improper situations can be prevented in the future.
"We found out there was an incident 30 January, and 3 February was the first memorandum that I had authority to release," Sumpter said. "It wasn't until CID released more information that I continued to give updates to the memos. You got the same information that I got."
Sumpter told the audience that the first two informational memos were issued Feb. 3 and March 7, and the third memo was made public March 13 announcing a detailed listing of the charges against Taylor released the same day by the district attorney.
The Cody Child Development Center is the largest day care facility in the Department of Defense. The JBM-HH CDC cares for infants and school-aged children and serves military and civilian families who work at the Pentagon, JBM-HH and Fort McNair. Currently, 264 students attend the Cody CDC.