A Channel 4 investigation reveals a shocking chain of events that includes a toddler, a day care playground and a used condom. The little girl did what many 3-year-olds would do when they find something on the ground: she put it in her mouth.
This happened in December 2011 at the day care which is part of the Head Start program run by the Jacksonville Urban League on Ionia Street. It is also the site of the city’s Robert F. Kennedy Community Center and Park. This incident has resulted in an entire year’s worth of fear and worry for her mother that the child has a sexually transmitted disease or possibly HIV because the condom tested positive for gonorrhea and it can take up to a year for these kinds of diseases to show up.
The child’s mom, Tiesha Sanders, was there on the playground that day and saw what happened. Now, she’s hired an attorney and plans to sue the Jacksonville Urban League because she says she wants to make sure other children won’t be exposed to the same danger that has changed her daughter’s life.
"I just really didn't want that to happen to my baby,” said Sanders. “If it happens to my daughter, it can happen to yours."
During an interview with Channel 4 anchor and reporter Adrienne Moore, Sanders cried while talking about that morning at the day care. She says she brought her daughter there and watched as she ran toward the slide and a group of children.
“I lift up my head and I saw her put something in her mouth and I was like, ‘get that out of your mouth!’ And someone said see what she had in her mouth and that's when I found out she had a condom in her mouth," explained Sanders.
During the interview when Adrienne asked Sanders what was going through her mind when she realized what her daughter had put in her mouth she said, “Honestly, I was like what the hell is that? I was very upset, I was shaking, I was crying."
After grabbing her daughter from the slide area, Sanders washed her mouth out with water and says she then called the Centers for Disease Control. After that, she says she took her to the emergency room at Baptist Medical Center where she not only had her little girl checked out, but had that condom tested too.
"The first test was the condom and it tested positive for a form of gonorrhea,” said Richard Alexander, Sanders’ attorney.
"It's bad enough you hear the first part that she had this in her mouth and then you hear that it tests positive for gonorrhea, and it's like, it's just a nightmare for a parent," he said.
Medical records provided to us by Alexander show doctors put the little girl through a series of invasive tests including rectal, vaginal and throat exams. Alexander says these test are repeated every four months so doctors can rule out the possibility of HIV and other diseases that sometimes take up to a year to show up.
According to Florida’s Administrative Code for Childcare Standards, a facility’s outdoor play area “…shall be clean, free from litter, nails, glass and other hazards…” also “…fenced to prevent access by children to all water hazards…” and “…free from toxic substances and hazardous materials.”
The incident that occurred with Sanders’ daughter was never reported to the Department of Children and Families. And, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, no police report was ever filed. In fact, neither agency knew about the incident until Channel 4 started investigating. However, DCF tells us the day care was not required to report it.
"We certainly recognize the concern parents would have about an incident like this. We inspect childcare facilities at least three times a year," said John Harrell with the Department of Children and Families.
Harrell says DCF has cited this Ionia Street day care facility five times for unrelated, minor violations in the last two years.
"There was a health exam where the child's shot record had been expired, and there was information that was missing on a child's enrollment form, and finally on a playground there was some rusty chains noted on a swing on this playground," said Harrell as he explained the previous citations.
Once Channel 4 notified DCF and started asking questions about how a major incident like this could happen, DCF’s Childcare Licensing Department launched an investigation into this case. It found the facility was not in compliance with Florida code the day this happened and was cited for posing “…a threat to the health, safety or well-being of the children due to the presence of hazardous items.”
Despite this citation, the day care will not be fined this time. Channel 4 is told it’s because this violation is a first offense. But, if it gets similar violations in the next two years, the facility could face a $50 fine, an amount set by the state.
As part of the investigation, DCF interviewed several people involved including the day care’s director. According to the report, the director stated “…she and her staff check and clean the area each day before the children go out, as they are aware that the park is utilized by the public after they leave. Adding that this day was no different.”
In addition to keeping the playground clean, Sanders says the other problem is access. The day care center is connected to Robert F. Kennedy Park and on the occasions that Channel 4 was there, the gates were wide open, allowing anyone to come inside the day care playground.
"You have to ask yourself if you're finding a condom deep in the middle of the playground, apparently sex was going on, on the playground. What else is going on there? Drug use? Might we find hypodermic needles?” said Alexander. “So this is a real concern. Oh, and by the way, this is a Head Start Program... which means they're getting funding from the government,” he added.
According to the Jacksonville Urban League the property where the day care operates is City owned and open to the public even when the day care is closed, claiming it is the City’s responsibility to maintain. While Urban League President Richard Danford declined an on-camera interview, he told Channel 4 the League is very concerned about the toddler’s welfare.
Mayor Alvin Brown’s office released the following statement to Channel 4: “The City of Jacksonville is investigating the facts behind the situation. We take safety at our facilities seriously.”
Regardless of the shared use, DCF points to the day care center’s duties in Florida regulations.
"In cases like these, it is the responsibility of the operator of these child care facilities to keep those facilities clean and to keep those facilities free from hazards," said Harrell.
During Channel 4’s investigation, we wanted to know over the last year, if police had been called out to this address, and if so, what for. Records show the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office was called out 49 times since January of 2011. The majority of the calls are related to theft and disputes. While it doesn’t appear any sex crimes were reported, there was an assault call from three months ago.
In the meantime, Sanders says she never received an apology from anyone involved and now wants to focus on not only getting justice for her little girl, but also wants to make sure no parent or child endures this nightmare again. She hopes her lawsuit she plans to file will prevent a repeat.
Sanders says her daughter has yet to ask questions about what happened or about the doctor visits but adds it will be difficult to explain.
“It will be hard because right now that's in her medical history,” she explained. “I will have to tell her, and whatever doctor that she is going to see is going to ask her if she has been diagnosed with this, that and the other."
Sanders says her daughter is now four years old and at a new day care program where she is happy and thriving. Her final check-up and last round of testing is scheduled for December. Despite the fact that condom tested positive for gonorrhea, so far the little girl has tested negative for any diseases.
Adrienne Moore’s original phone call with Jacksonville Urban League President Richard Danford was prior to DCF’s investigation of the day care. Since then, Adrienne has left several messages with Danford to get a statement regarding the outcome of that investigation, but the calls have not been returned.