The co-owner and director of a Hillsborough County, Florida daycare center has been charged with being “physically abusive” toward children in her care, the local sheriff’s office said in a press release.
Rong Liu, 51, was arrested Thursday. Court records say she’s charged with third-degree felony child abuse in connection with a June 20, 2022 incident.
Liu is “known as Ms. Judy to the school community,” local NBC affiliate WFLA-TV reported.
Tara Ashley Ballou, 28, who apparently worked at the facility, was previously arrested Tuesday. A separate court case indicates she’s charged with the same — third-degree felony child abuse.
A partially redacted affidavit in Liu’s case explains some of the background:
On 06/20/22 the victim [redacted] was at the [redacted]. Between 1202 hours and 1206 hours, the defendant, Rong Liu, was attempting to get the victim to nap. During that time, she moved [redacted] and restrained [redacted] by forcefully pushing and pulling [redacted] head and neck, with her right hand. She also her left and right legs across the top of [redacted] body to hold [redacted] down. [Redacted] appeared to be crying during the incident, as [redacted] was flailing [redacted] legs. Rong Liu is the [redacted] co-owner and director and was [redacted] during the time of the incident. Rong Liu’s intentional acts would reasonably be expected to result in physical injury to [redacted]. The entire incident was captured via surveillance cameras within the daycare. The victim was positively identified in the videos by [redacted]. Rong Liu identified herself verbally and it was confirmed . . . . This incident occurred within Hillsborough County.
Both women were connected to the Children’s Land of Imagination Academy in Odessa, the authorities said.
“It is sickening to hear that the person responsible for dozens of children at daycare would inflict this type of punishment on the vulnerable persons in her care,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister in a statement. “Unfortunately, throughout our investigation, we have learned that she is known to treat her students harshly and roughly. Thanks to the hard work, and the persistent efforts by our Special Victims Investigators, they were able to find out the truth behind the accusations reported to us.”
Black and white video of the incidents released by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office appears to show Ballou repeatedly pushing a child to the ground and then restraining the child with her leg.
The video then later appears to show Liu performing the same restraining maneuver with her leg on another child. The child being restrained by Liu was visibly agitated and was flailing both of its legs and thrashing both of its arms for significant portions of the footage. At times Liu also pats or hits the child with her right hand; at times, Liu directs her left hand toward rubbing another child on her other side.
Though the video is edited — several clips are strung together — Liu’s activity as portrayed on the recording lasts about 40 seconds.
One parent, Elizabeth Carpenter, told WFLA-TV that she received word from child protective services workers that her 3-year-old son was “being yanked across the room forcefully on more than one occasion.”
The television station said Carpenter confronted Liu. Liu allegedly claimed she knew nothing of the accusations and would not have hurt the child.
Carpenter said the evidence eventually showed, however, that Liu had hurt her son, the television station added..
Carpenter reportedly indicated that the video showed her son “being held down with a shoe and a foot down on the nap mat as he [was] screaming [and] trying to be forced to take a nap.”
The television station said the facility remained open after the women were arrested.
[Editor’s note: WFLA-TV indicated that the daycare co-owner’s name was spelled “Lui.” However, the sheriff’s office and the court paperwork spell it Liu. Law&Crime has used the latter spelling, which is contained in the official documents.]
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