After almost two years in business, Emmanuel Child Development and Learning Center in Baton Rouge abruptly closed Wednesday. A day later, it became clear why.
At a news conference on Thursday, U.S. Attorney Walt Green announced the arrests of 38 people, describing them as part of a wide-ranging and violent drug ring and accusing them, among other things, of using the north Baton Rouge day care as a storefront for their cocaine. A 39th person, D’Andre Smith, was named in the 58-page indictment but was gunned down the same day it was issued.
Barry Landry, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Education, said the state agency had been tipped off two days earlier that the day care’s 37-year-old director, Kimberly London, had been arrested. He said an agent from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informed them that London and her husband, Kelly D. Williams, 39, were implicated.
“(London) was accused of allowing her husband to manufacture, store, package and distribute drugs in and from the child care center,” Landry said.
That DEA agent’s call set in motion the process to revoke the day care’s license, Landry said. Illicit drug activity is one of many reasons the state can revoke a center’s license, he said.
Soon after that call, an inspector in the department’s child care licensing division drove out to the center, located at 1384 Swan Drive, a few blocks from Southern University. Ten children were present, including three infants and a 7-year-old who was taking a nap, unsupervised.
A lot of required paperwork was missing, including documentation of job applications, reference checks, doctor’s statements attesting to the health of employees, as well as evidence of first aid and CPR training. Also missing were criminal background checks for at least two of the day care’s five staff members, according to records.
Landry said London’s arrest and the details surrounding it, though, were key.
“Those other problems were just the icing on the cake,” Landry said.
The next day, the day care voluntarily agreed to shut down. It will have to wait two years before it can reapply for a license.
On Monday, a loud air conditioning unit was still running at the Emmanuel Child Development and Learning Center, but no cars were parked outside and nobody answered the door. That door was topped by a banner announcing “God Is With Us.”
Someone had stuffed classroom decorations into trash bags at the curb. Behind the day care, a playhouse sat toppled among other toys in the silent backyard.
Law enforcement visited the day care nearly two years earlier, on Sept. 26, 2013, soon after it began business, but the search apparently didn’t result in immediate arrests. That year, drug dealers moved cocaine in and out of the informal school, storing money from the sales there, according to a federal indictment. Williams, the day care director’s husband, also possessed firearms and at one point threatened to use a hatchet to cut off the fingers of a person who owed him money, the indictment alleged.
State licensing inspections turned up nothing so dramatic, but Emmanuel Child Development and Learning Center had its share of problems during its short existence.
The center managed to pass only one of six state inspections since it first applied for a Class A license on March 13, 2013. Those inspections started when child care licensing was handled by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services; that duty shifted to the state Department of Education in October.
Lack of documentation was a recurring problem. On Oct. 24, 2013, three employees lacked current criminal background checks. On July 15, 2014, one staff member had not been checked against a database of individuals with a history of child abuse or neglect.
* This story was edited after publication to correct the number of state inspections of the day care.