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Story - News

Sep 7, 2016 11:00 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

UPDATE: Trial For Day Care Worker Charged With Endangering A Child Adjourned

Sarah Dawber heads into Southampton Town Justice Court with her attorney Colin Astarita on Tuesday morning.  DANA SHAW
Sep 7, 2016 5:06 PM

UPDATE: Wednesday, 4:45 p.m.

On Wednesday, the trial was adjourned until September 20 to allow for a key witness to take the stand.

Former Southampton Town Police Department Detective James Mazzio, who took statements from Sarah Dawber following the incident at Side By Side Child Care Center, is now retired, and is not able to appear in court until September 20.

Original Story

The trial of a day care worker accused of verbally, physically and emotionally abusing an infant at a Southampton child care facility last year began on Tuesday at Southampton Town Justice Court.

Sarah Dawber, 24, of Patchogue faces a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of an 18-month-old girl at the former Side By Side Child Care Center on North Sea Road. According to her attorney, Colin Astarita, she faces punishment that could range from a fine to as much as a year in jail.

Ms. Dawber chose to waive her right to a trial by jury, so Justice Gary J. Weber will rule on the charges. Mr. Astarita said his client made that choice because jurors may have trouble separating facts from claims when children are involved.

Tuesday’s proceedings focused on the narratives of witnesses for the prosecution about what happened on August 25, 2015, at the center.

Kennedy Williams, who was hired four months prior to the incident as a teacher’s aide at the center, testified that she saw Ms. Dawber become agitated and impatient with the little girl, tilting her head back and stuffing pieces of an onion roll in her mouth. Ms. Williams, a high school graduate with experience as a babysitter, said there was so much bread in the baby’s mouth that Ms. Dawber could not fit any more in, and the child began to gag, and then vomited.

Ms. Williams said this was not the first time she had seen Ms. Dawber force-feed a child, but she said Ms. Dawber seemed more aggressive than she had previously.

Last year, in a handwritten statement to police, Ms. Dawber had said she was trained by Kathleen Culver, 33, of Southampton when she first began working as a teacher at the center in September 2014. Ms. Dawber said that Ms. Culver, who was the head teacher, instructed her to “push [a child’s] head and hold it, then put the food in the mouth.”

Ms. Dawber admitted to police that she was having a hard time feeding lunch to a child on August 25, and had used that method to get the child to eat.

In court on Tuesday, Ms. Williams said she had sat roughly 5 feet away and watched, but did not intervene. At one point, she went to use the bathroom and crossed paths with Lori Martin, a substitute teacher, who also testified in court on Tuesday. When she and Ms. Williams crossed paths, Ms. Martin said, “she had tears in her eyes” and said she had “witnessed something horrible.”

Ms. Williams said that when it was her time to take a lunch break, she decided to leave the facility and not return.

The little girl’s mother, Caroline Stella, testified that she had received a call from Ms. Williams that night. Ms. Stella said Ms. Williams told her that her daughter had been hit and force-fed by Ms. Dawber. With tears in her eyes, Ms. Stella gave an emotional account of what she went through after the phone call, and how her child had behaved in the days leading up to August 25.

At home, the child would resist going into or near her high chair—which was similar to the one at day care—Ms. Stella testified. She said she originally thought it was a phase, but was able to piece things together after Ms. Williams’s call. Ms. Stella tried to call the school that night, she said, but it was closed for the evening. She then called the police to report what Ms. Williams had told her.

Southampton Town Police Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa testified that the detectives unit went on to interview many at that time current and former employees at the day care. She said many of the employees reported similar accounts of Ms. Dawber force-feeding and “jacking kids up”—a term describing when children were lifted by their shirts out of the chairs and slammed forcibly on the ground.

After hearing these accounts, Det. Sgt. Costa said, her department determined there was “a repeated course of conduct … where children were maltreated and abused.”

Mr. Astarita asked Det. Sgt. Costa if all of the workers at the day care were “mandatory reporters”—people who are legally required to report abuse when they see it—and the detective replied that they were. When Mr. Astarita asked if any of the workers who observed the abuse had reported it to Child Protective Services, she said they had not.

Although workers had said Ms. Dawber abused other children at the facility, Det. Sgt. Costa said, they could not provide detectives with specific names and other details. Therefore, Ms. Dawber is being charged in connection with only the one incident.

“The parents are extremely upset, and, as a father of three, I completely understand,” Mr. Astarita said after Tuesday’s court proceedings. “If you look at my history … I don’t take cases that involve children or sexual abuse or rape. I’m one of the very few defense attorneys who will turn those away,” he said.

“I made a decision to represent her because I didn’t feel that what happened gave rise to a criminal charge—and I still don’t,” he continued.

The head teacher, Ms. Culver, was also charged with a misdemeanor count of child endangerment in connection with the incident, and she and Ms. Dawber are being tried separately. Witnesses for the prosecution, and possibly the defense, were expected to take the stand beginning at 11 a.m. on Wednesday in Southampton Town Justice Court.

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Bullying 1 year olds by 'jacking them up' ? What horrible people.

These two better get some jail time.
By C Law (334), Water Mill on Sep 7, 16 2:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
My heart goes out to the little girl and to the mother - That this is merely a misdemeanor offense is an outrage in itself - there should be a heavier charge of abuse if this is a day-care facility where there should be requirements in place regarding professionalism with respect to handling children. And there should be some kind of record with respect to the abuser so that she is not hired at another facility where she potentially can make a similar error.
By Vikki K (487), Southampton on Sep 8, 16 12:03 PM
Better yet....with regard to horrible people....
Can we get anything more on Steven Mezynieski please?!?
Story went up....comments disabled immediately....then NOTHING!

The guy is charged with the top 2 worst felony sex crimes possible and in addition it involves a MINOR and NOTHING?!?
Truly unbelievable.
By saggguy (18), SAGAPONACK on Sep 8, 16 1:25 PM
It is unbelievable that she is only being charged with a misdemeanor!!! Let's not forget how she admitted that she did these things in a sworn statement. Hope these evil animals get jail time!
By lovemylife (9), Deer Park on Sep 10, 16 11:27 AM
1 member liked this comment