Parents of at least 10 children testify in sentencing of Louisiana daycare workers who pleaded guilty to child abuse sentenced.
Published 4:42 am Thursday, September 8, 2022
One by one, parents of at least 10 children who attended Noah’s Ark Christian Childcare in Vidalia, including the sheriff of Concordia Parish, testified in court prior to the owner and employees’ sentencing for child abuse charges on Wednesday.
Louisiana 7th Judicial District Judge Kathy Johnson oversaw the court proceedings.
The day care in Vidalia is located directly across the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi.
The courtroom witnessed video clips of children being slapped, kicked and hit with wooden paint sticks; children being dragged by the hair and arms and at least one instance of a child being hit on the head with a folded sleeping mat.
Johnson said she was disgusted by the footage.
“Were it up to me, I would line up Miss (Bridget K.) Delaughter with shorts and short sleeves on and give every parent in here a paint stick … let parents hit her with an open hand,” Johnson said, with similar wishes for the other women charged in the case.
In October 2021, a Louisiana State Police investigation of child cruelty allegations involving Noah’s Ark Christian Childcare in Vidalia resulted in the daycare’s closing and ended with the arrest of the three daycare employees and the owner. All pled guilty to child abuse charges in June 2022.
Lysa C. Richardson, the owner of the daycare facility, pleaded guilty to three counts of cruelty to a juvenile and was sentenced to seven years hard labor.
Delaughter pleaded guilty to three counts of cruelty to a juvenile and was sentenced to nine years hard labor.
Julianne Perales pleaded guilty to six counts of cruelty to a juvenile and was sentenced to 12 years hard labor, without benefits. The first three counts run concurrently and the last three consecutively.
None of them are allowed to work at a childcare facility ever again, Johnson ordered.
The third employee, Taylor Ragonesi, who pleaded guilty to one count of abuse has not been sentenced yet.
Johnson authorized a continuance in Ragonesi’s sentencing until Sept. 16. The defendant’s attorney Derrick Carson said a mixup in addresses left her unaware of the hearing date until Wednesday.
To Ragonesi, who was tasked at the daycare with watching vulnerable infants a year old or younger, Johnson said, “If I were to leave you alone in a room with these parents and let them do to you what you’ve done to these babies, you would be unrecognizable with all of the bruises.”
Johnson said to Richardson that it was her responsibility as the owner of the daycare to make sure that none of the children were abused. Instead, the video showed her watching as children were hit and her spanking children herself with what Johnson described as “a long thick board.”
Annabelle Wilson, the first parent to report the abuse of her son Ty, was also the first parent to testify at Wednesday’s hearing. Ty was 16 months old as of October 2021, when she reported her son was hit at the daycare.
“Thank heaven Mrs. Wilson noticed the mark on her son’s back and reported it to law enforcement,” Johnson said. She added thanks to Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office detective Stephen Lipscomb, who quickly started the investigation that led to the sheriff’s office seizing a DVR hard drive with the surveillance footage from the daycare.
“Had they not seized the video, I suspect everything on it would’ve been erased and we would not be here today,” Johnson said.
Wilson said she is now “gutted” by the risk she takes leaving her son in the care of others.
She turned to the daycare workers and said, “You are the bane of my existence.”
Wilson said she also can’t help but blame herself for not noticing the abuse sooner. Her family has undergone trauma therapy and Ty must continue therapy when he is three years old.
“How did I not notice my child was being abused?” she said, adding he continues to develop at a slower pace than his two older sisters had at his age. “Ty was nonverbal and had just learned to walk. There was nothing he or any of these children did to deserve this. It was your job to nurture their spirits and instead, you broke them.”
She and other parents said their children were afraid to get up from naps until an adult told them it was OK for them to move. One father said his 14-month-old daughter was terrified to sleep under her covers and couldn’t understand why until he saw a video that showed Ragonesi picking the girl up by her arm and throwing her roughly back down onto a sleeping mat before throwing a blanket over her.
Concordia Parish Sheriff David Hedrick, whose son also attended the daycare, said his son’s lip had been busted and he thought he must’ve fallen while playing.
Hedrick said his investigators observed more than 80 incidences of violence on a surveillance system that would only record up to two weeks of video footage.
“This is the one time that I was upset to be the sheriff of this parish,” Hedrick said. “I’ve worked many child abuse cases and I know that criminals only confess to what they can’t deny doing to a jury because there is undeniable proof.”
Hedrick asked the judge for the maximum penalty for the daycare workers. He said, “once a criminal always a criminal” and a lesser sentence could result in them continuing to do harm.
“I pray that all of the children and parents involved in this case will get through this,” he added.
Multiple parents said their children — after being removed from Noah’s Ark — were screaming and crying on the way to start at different childcare facilities. The mother and grandmother of a set of twins, who were six months old when they started going to Noah’s Ark and are now two years old, said they saw footage of the girls watching TV together at the daycare and saw a worker slap one of the girls but not the other.
When given the opportunity to speak for themselves, Perales and Delaughter both said they were sorry for hurting the children and their families. Perales added she didn’t have any children at the time and is now a mother herself.
“Now that I’m a parent, I never would want any of this to happen to my baby,” she said. Perales said she acted as she did because Richardson told her she had permission from the children’s parents to spank them.
When parents said they never authorized the daycare to hit or spank their children, Richardson denied it. “Right or wrong, parents did give myself and others permission to spank their children,” she said.
She said when the daycare opened in 2010, state law permitted corporal punishment with written consent from parents. However, Richardson added she did not have written permission.
“I’ve heard numerous people say I have no remorse but I have a lot of remorse in my heart,” Richardson said. “I also have depression and anxiety. Just because I haven’t shown any tears in this courtroom, but I’ve eaten the inside of my lip up. I’ve heard every word that these parents had to say and I’m deeply sorry.”