Daycare owner pleads guilty to child abuse

Feb. 18, 2013 @ 05:49 PM

A woman who owned a daycare center pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abuse Monday in Durham County Superior Court, but the judge was not happy with the plea agreement.

Christy Guzman faced charges of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily/mental or emotional injury and felony child abuse inflicting serious injury for an alleged incident involving a 3-month old baby in her care.

Under a plea agreement, the felony charges were dismissed and Guzman was allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor child abuse. Guzman entered an Alford plea to the child abuse charge, meaning she did not admit guilt.

Guzman had a home daycare center called “Grow with Me,” and on Aug. 26, 2009, a mother left her 3-month-old baby at the center. It was his fourth day there, said Assistant District Attorney Kelly Gauger.

When the boy’s father came to pick him up at the end of the day, Guzman was holding the baby, and he was lethargic, pale and non-responsive, Gauger said.

The baby was treated at Duke University Hospital for head injuries, and if the case had gone to trial, doctors from the hospital would have testified the boy had a bruise across the bridge of his noise and had a subdural hematoma and retinal hemorrhaging, Gauger said.

When Durham police and DSS investigators interviewed Guzman, she told them she didn’t know how the baby was injured but it was possible that a toddler fell on the baby, which she left lying on its tummy while she went to the bathroom.

The doctors would have testified that if a toddler had fallen on the baby, that would not have produced enough force to cause the injuries, Gauger said.

The baby remained in the hospital for several days and his parents had to make repeated visits to doctors to make sure the baby was progressing normally.

The boy is now four and shows no signs of any problems, Gauger said.

The father of the boy spoke, saying that his family was lucky because other children who had the same injuries didn’t survive or their injuries were so bad that they were left with life-long disabilities.

After hearing the facts of the case and the plea agreement, Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins appeared upset. He suddenly stood up from the bench and said he was leaving, saying the court would be at ease for five minutes.

When Collins returned, he asked Gauger why he should accept the plea agreement and why the state had entered into the agreement.

Gauger said it had been a long case and that after consulting with the parents, they were comfortable with the agreement.

“OK, that’s all I need to know,” Collins said referring to the parents’ opinion. “I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t for that.”

Guzman’s attorney, Meredith Nicholson, said her client is not a person who would harm a child. She entered into the plea agreement instead of going to trial because she has two young sons to raise and she couldn’t take a chance a jury would find her guilty and send her to prison.

Based on the plea agreement, Collins sentenced Guzman to 60 days in jail, suspended the sentence for 24 months and placed her on supervised probation.

He also ordered Guzman not be alone with any children other than her own and that she pay $4,200 in attorney fees, $600 to a compensation fund for victims and $180 in restitution to the family.