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Day care in Sandy probed

SANDY — Detectives served a search warrant and removed evidence from a local day-care center after allegations surfaced that four children were physically and mentally abused at the facility.

Sandy police obtained the search warrant after parents and former employees reported four children had allegedly been abused while in the care of the Willow Creek Children's Center, 2309 E. 9400 South, Sgt. Michelle Burnette said.

Sandy police were notified of the allegations after the day-care center refused to turn over surveillance tapes requested by the Utah Department of Health's Bureau of Licensing, spokeswoman Jana Kettering said.

Burnette refused to confirm if evidence removed from Willow Creek included surveillance tapes. No one was arrested Friday, and the day-care center remained open pending the results of an investigation by licensing officials.

Phone calls to Willow Creek were not answered Friday.

Licensing officials had requested the tapes after receiving an abuse complaint against the center about one month ago, Kettering said. Willow Creek officials referred authorities to the company's attorney, Kettering said.

Instead of turning over tapes from the dates requested by licensing officials, the attorney offered up surveillance footage taken after authorities visited the center to investigate the complaint, Kettering said.

"We didn't feel like we could resolve the matter without those tapes and so we asked Sandy police for their assistance in helping us obtain them," Kettering said.

Plainclothes detectives entered the facility with a search warrant Friday at approximately 4:15 p.m., Burnette said. Parents were coming and going from the center with their children at the time, but the facility was not shut down while police searched specific areas of the building for about 45 minutes, Burnette said. She declined to say exactly where the detectives searched or what they were looking for. The abuse allegations involved multiple individuals, Burnette said.

The Division of Child and Family Services within the Utah Department of Human Services has also been investigating Willow Creek for the past couple weeks, spokeswoman Carol Sisco said.

"We have been concerned that there might be child abuse going on," she said.

Though the center had no prior history with police, Department of Health records show a complaint was filed against the facility in July 2001.

Interviews with children revealed "multiple uses of corporal punishment," according to a licensing report requested by the Deseret News. Three children were spanked for writing on a wall, having diarrhea, playing in a bathroom urinal and wetting their pants, the report stated. Surveillance tapes and interviews also uncovered instances of force-feeding children, the report stated.

"Witnesses revealed that they have been instructed to hit or spank children for such things as biting or when having other problems," the report concluded. "Additional information from witnesses reveals the use of demeaning language to the children."

In response to the complaints, Willow Creek submitted a plan of correction in September 2001 to licensing officials indicating that staff members had been instructed about proper discipline procedures.

"Employees are not directed or instructed to use corporal punishment as a means to correct a child's behavior by the owner or director as this is not an acceptable discipline method," the plan of correction stated.

Licensing officials accepted the plan without taking any action.

"There wasn't a pattern of problems so we accepted their plan of correction," Kettering said.

Willow Creek's license was renewed Dec. 31, 2002, Kettering said. Actions for possible violations can range from a citation, fine or license revocation.

"It's still an allegation. There have been no findings to date on this," Kettering said. "We have not made any decisions on this yet."

Police are expected to screen their case regarding these latest allegations for possible criminal charges with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office next week, Burnette said.

The ages of the four children were not immediately available.

Any parents who believe their children were abused at the facility are asked to call Sandy police detective Jeff Kelleher at 352-4487.