TIFTON -- There is no evidence to charge a day care worker accused of child abuse, local officials said Thursday during a press conference.

"The tape looked something like an old Laurel and Hardy film in fast speed," Tift County Sheriff Gary Vowell said. "We slowed it down to real time and could actually see what happened."

On Aug. 6, LaTonya Young, 26, reported to a deputy that she came home and checked her mailbox to find a videotape. When she viewed the tape, she noticed it showed scenes from First Steps Day Care Center on East Golden Road, the day care where her 2-year-old son was staying.

The video, recorded by a security system at the day care, was broadcast on WALB-TV along with a story that included an interview with Young. The tape, according to Capt. Jeff Flynt, was played on television at a speed of 32 frames per second.

"A regular VCR shows eight frames per second," Flynt said.

The video played in "real time" by Flynt shows a day care worker walking hand-in-hand with the young boy into a room with other children sitting around a table. Not visible at the higher speed is a baby in the worker's arms.

When the worker and the boy enter the room, the boy falls on the floor in a tantrum.

The worker doesn't bend down to move him away from the door to shut it. Instead, she uses her foot to slide the child out of the way of the door.

"She has a child in her arms and that's why she doesn't bend down," Investigator Cliff Henderson said.

The day care worker then shuts the door.

Approximately 17 seconds later into the film, a second woman, a day care employee who was in the room but not shown on television, steps into view of the camera and attends to Young's child.

Vowell said he understood how a parent, viewing the tape in fast motion, could fear the worst.

"In a parent's eyes, that could be viewed as child abuse the way it was presented," Vowell said. "As you can see, there was no kick. She slid him out of the way and closed the door."

Vowell said he and District Attorney Paul Bowden and investigators from both agencies met and discussed whether the evidence constituted an arrest.

"We reviewed the tape over and over," Vowell said. "We felt it (the press conference) was necessary because the tape was turned over to the media before the investigation began or was complete."

A press release stated, "After reviewing the video tape at the speed at which the events actually occurred, it is the opinion of the investigating officers and the district attorney's office that the acts depicted in the video do not constitute the crime of cruelty to children."

That charge, the press release explained, must include acts that maliciously cause a child under 18 "cruel or excessive physical or mental pain."

The press release stated that reports of child abuse are "vigorously investigated and prosecuted when confirmed."

Vowell said he contacted Young two days ago and invited her to come to his office to view the tape in real time.

"She refused," he said. "Unless there are more reports at this particular day care, there will be no charges."

Salathea Hammock, manager of First Steps, said that "at this time we have been advised by our attorney not to comment."

Hammock said the day care has been in operation since November and that the recent complaint was the first it received.



To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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