Jury finds Colorado Springs daycare owner guilty on all charges after 25 infants were found hidden in basement
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Thursday, a jury reached a verdict for two women facing child abuse charges.
Carla Faith, the owner of Play Mountain Place, was found guilty on all charges.
Faith faced 26 counts of child abuse, one count of attempting to influence a peace officer, and three counts of operating a daycare without a license.
Christina Swauger, an employee at Play Mountain Place, was found guilty on 26 counts of misdemeanor child abuse. She was also found guilty on charges of attempting to influence a public servant and obstructing a peace officer.
Sentencing will take place on October 21, at 1:30 p.m.
After police found two dozen infants hidden behind a false wall in the basement of an in-home daycare in 2019, a jury is deliberating if that Colorado Springs daycare operator is guilty of child abuse on Thursday.
Faith ran Play Mountain Place out of her home on East Willamette Avenue since at least 2012, according to a civil suit filed against her. She was licensed through the Department of Human Services, but she was only supposed to be operating out of part of her home and was only allowed to have six kids in her care at a time. She also wasn't approved to have any employees working for her that cared for children. She allegedly had at least four employees caring for kids at her daycare, none of them had DHS-approved training or background checks. Even if they had, they wouldn't be allowed to be alone with any children. A former employee, Valerie Fresquez, testified Wednesday that she would regularly care for seven to nine kids by herself. Though, that employee also testified that she believed the daycare was safe and that Faith was excellent with children.
Faith's defense counsel alleged in closing arguments Thursday that her daycare started growing because she was good at caring for kids, saying it was an "egregious mistake" that she didn't apply for a new license.
During testimony on Wednesday, a Program Manager from the Department of Human Services testified that inspectors had tried to make unannounced inspection visits to Play Mountain Place in 2019, but Faith repeatedly made excuses as to why they couldn't inspect that day. She allegedly claimed that there was a water main break or that they weren't caring for kids that day.
Then, someone submitted a tip to DHS that they believed Faith was caring for too many kids in her daycare. CSPD officers performed a welfare check on November 13, 2019, to make sure the kids were in a safe environment.
Body-worn camera footage from the CSPD officers was played in court during closing arguments. It shows an officer asking one of Faith's employees, Swauger, if she worked at Play Mountain Place, as a child was being picked up by their parents. She tells the officers that she doesn't work there, she's just a friend. This exchange is what prompted a charge of "attempting to influence a public servant" to be filed against Swauger, as the prosecution argues that she lied to investigators.
That footage then shows officers walking around the daycare with Faith and repeatedly asking her to tell them where the kids were at her daycare. She initially said she wasn't caring for any, then she said they were at a nearby park. Officers kept prying and found a pile of backpacks hidden under blankets. Faith told the officer that she cleans backpacks for a local soccer team, the officer said she felt that was not very likely. Then, Faith asked the officers if they have a search warrant to search her property. The officers tell her that because they are performing a welfare check and that the health and safety of children are in question, a search warrant was not needed.
Eventually, officers discover a false wall inside the daycare leading to a basement. Inside, with all the lights off, police found two employees and 25 children ages 2 and under in the basement. One of those employees, Fresquez, testified that it was "nap time," but also said she was instructed to bring all of her children down there and stay quiet. She said this wasn't a regular occurrence, but it would sometimes happen if Faith was giving a tour to new parents.
As a result of the 25 kids in the basement, and the child who was picked up when police arrived, Faith, Swauger, Fresquez, and an additional employee, Katelynn Nelson, were all charged with 26 counts of misdemeanor child abuse.
Fresquez accepted a plea deal that requires her to complete several steps, but she will eventually see her charges dismissed.
Nelson was also charged with a class 4 drug felony for possession of an illegal substance and with a petty drug offense for possession of drug paraphernalia. She has failed to show up to some of her court appearances. She pled not guilty to the charges against her and is scheduled to be back in court for a pre-trial hearing on September 16, 2021.
Faith and Swauger were also charged with "attempting to influence a public servant" for allegedly lying to police during the welfare check. Faith faces an additional three charges for operating a daycare without a license because DHS had only granted her a license for a portion of her property. The additional rooms and buildings she was using for childcare were not inspected or approved.
Faith and Swauger were tried together. Their trial began Tuesday, and the jury was sent to deliberate Thursday afternoon. Both Swauger and Faith's defense counsel argued to the jury that they believe they should've been charged with "obstructing a peace officer" instead of "attempting to influence a public servant" for lying to the police. Obstructing a peace officer is a lesser charge.
In the prosecution's closing statement though, they told the jury that there's no reason to not find them guilty on both charges.
Faith's defense counsel told the jury during closing statements that they should convict her on the charges of "operating an unlicensed daycare" and on "obstructing a peace officer," but nothing else. They argued that because the prosecution didn't prove that any of the children in the basement were actually harmed, they didn't prove that she was guilty of child abuse. Swauger's defense made the same argument.
The prosecution closed out the trial by telling the jurors that children don't have to be hurt for someone to be charged with child abuse, they just have to be at risk of being injured either mentally or physically. Fresquez testified Wednesday that she felt she was scared for her life and the lives of the children she was caring for when she was asked to go to the basement because if there was a fire, she didn't think everyone would be able to get out.
The jury is now considering 55 different charges against Faith and Swauger. Their decision could come any time now.