In a lawsuit filed in Montgomery County Thursday, a mother alleges that someone at a daycare center filmed her son fighting with another kid as part of a “toddler fight club."
Heather Howerton says that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services contacted her last December about a video they obtained of her son getting pushed and hit by another kid at daycare while a supervisor egged it on.
Howerton got in her car and raced over to Children’s Universe daycare in Conroe demanding to see the video. According to Howerton, it showed her four-year-old son innocently playing with cars on the playground before another kid shoved him, scratched his face, and put him in a choke hold. “He turned and looked directly at the teacher in a way that was asking for help,” Howerton said. “He looked sad and scared, like he didn’t know what to do. She said, ‘Get up and fight.’”
Children’s Universe Owner Brooke Leax said that so far she has not been served with the lawsuit, and that, in reality, she was the one to turn the video over to DFPS. Last year an anonymous phone number had sent it to her with an accompanying threat—“I hope this doesn’t leak to authorities,” the message said. “And then I immediately leaked it,” Leax said.
Leax claims police traced the number back to the mother of an angry employee who had just been fired a few weeks earlier.
An investigation by police Child Protective Services ensued, and Leax says the daycare “cooperated 100 percent.” They were able to find the video on Snapchat, but because neither agency could determine who exactly was filming the video and no employees were actually visible, the case was closed.
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“It kind of surprised me, because there are statements being made by the teacher on the tape saying things like, ‘quit crying, fight back,’” said Howerton’s attorney, Greg Fibich. Fibich said he himself hasn't actually seen this video—the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office said he was entitled to see it, but that they would have to redact the other child's identity from the video and currently lack the technology to do so. He says that he'll soon file a subpoena for it.
Fibich says the lawsuit filed in court this week is the family's way of revisiting the case, so Howerton and her son can be paid for the “mental anguish that this poor child went through.”
“My son was victimized in a place that’s claiming to be number two in the county for the best childcare facility, the safest facility,” Howerton said. “I don’t want things like this to happen to other children.”
Leax says that since the incident happened, the daycare has hired more personnel to supervise the rooms so they can reinforce the daycare’s no-cellphone policy. While Howerton claims that her son nearly got his eyes gouged out and had several bruises and scratches, Leax said that nobody was hurt and described the video this way: “It basically was two kids playing Ninja Turtles.”