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Waco home daycare owner and employee indicted for child abuse

Credit: Waco PD
Pepper Jones, left, Britany Starr Hale, right, mugshots.

A Waco home daycare owner and one of her employees have been indicted on charges linked to what police have previously described as repeated abuse inside the facility.

Miss Pepper's Place daycare owner Pepper Jones and employee Brittany Starr Hale surrendered themselves at the McLennan County Jail in June. The Waco Police Department's Crimes Against Children Detective Unit had been investigating allegations of child abuse against the pair since April 4.

On Wednesday, the McLennan County District Clerk's Office confirmed Jones had been indicted on one count of injury to a child and six counts of endangering a child. Hale was indicted on six counts of injury to a child.

According to the arrest affidavits released earlier in 2017, Waco Police Detectives reviewed seven days worth of video recordings from a home security system that could see a portion of the inside of the daycare.

"There were numerous incidents of injury to a child captured on the video recordings, and [Jones] failed to take action to stop the injuries," Detective Kimberly Clark wrote in the affidavits.

In just a one-week span of video footage, recorded March 28-April 3, detectives found evidence of abuse against six victims, ranging in age from 10 months to 2-years-old. That one week provided enough evidence to create 27 pages worth of arrest affidavits.

Detectives claim Jones dislocated a 2-year-old boy's shoulder and fractured his elbow on April 3. According to the affidavits, investigators believe those injuries occurred during a nine-minute window that was not caught on camera.

"There is a nine-minute time frame where the victim is not in the video, but comes back into the video area and his demeanor has completely changed," Detective Clark wrote. "The victim sits on a bench and holds his arm and does not move his arm."

The affidavits stated a text message from Jones to a parent -- who was not the boy's parent -- acknowledged that "I messed with his arm and it popped."

On a different day, the same boy was shown on video being hit on the butt by Hale, the affidavits said.

"The victim sits on the floor to put the toy in the toy bin, and then [Hale] grabs the victim on both sides of the head, pulling him up off the floor to make him stand," Detective Clark wrote.

Several other examples of abuse were captured on video, according to police.

The affidavits said Hale placed a 2-year-old girl "in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment" when Hale grabbed her by the back of the head and used her hair to pull her forward on the floor. A day later, Hale grabbed a 23-month-old girl by her 'pig tail' with enough force to move the girl and cause the girl to fall to her knees before using the girl's hair to move her until she put a toy away, the affidavits said. Another situation captured on video showed Hale dragging a 1-year-old girl across the room by her ear to put a toy away, according to the affidavits.

"You can see the victim wince in pain as she is being pulled by her ear," Detective Clark wrote.

Yet another example from the video footage showed Hale shove a 2-year-old girl off a bench and onto the floor, according to the affidavits.

"[Hale] uses enough force that causes the victim's neck to snap back as she is falling to the floor," Detective Clark wrote.

In another piece of footage, [Hale] picked up a 10-month-old girl by her left arm and forcefully grabbed her hand, snapping the girl's head up with force, the affidavits stated.

"The victim is crying during and after the incident," Detective Clark stated.

Jones agreed to shut down the daycare when police began their investigation, and the facility has remained closed since. She is charged with one count of injury to a child and six counts of endangering a child for not stopping Hale's abuse, according to police. Hale was charged with six counts of injury to a child.

Channel Six typically does not identify the victims in abuse cases, unless the victims or their families choose to speak publicly. In this case, the alleged victims were babies and toddlers anyway. However, a parent of one of the children, who wished to remain anonymous, admitted police had shown her video of her daughter being dragged by Hale, and she was disturbed by what she saw.

Channel Six has previously interviewed Pepper Jones through her community involvement efforts. She co-founded a group called No Limitations Athletics, which is a ministry of the Central United Methodist Church in Waco.

Jones has hired Waco attorney Seth Sutton, who released the following statement when news of the investigation first broke over the summer.

"Pepper Jones has a long history of serving the kids of the Waco community, especially those with disabilities. We take any allegation of child injury very seriously and have already begun working with authorities to ensure a proper outcome to this situation. I ask that you respect the family's privacy. We won't have any further comment until after I've had an opportunity to review the relevant evidence in the case."

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