Daycare worker charged with hitting, torturing 2- and 3-year olds

Lincoln Marti daycare worker Clara Luz Quintero-Gonzalez was charged on Thursday with abusing children at the Miami Beach school.
Lincoln Marti daycare worker Clara Luz Quintero-Gonzalez was charged on Thursday with abusing children at the Miami Beach school.

A daycare worker at a private charter school on Miami Beach was arrested Thursday after video surveillance showed her punching, slapping, elbowing and twisting the arms of four children who were 2 and 3 years old, police said.

The arrest came a week after police were called to Lincoln Martí Daycare at 1700 Jefferson Ave., where an angry mother got into a fight with a counselor after watching video surveillance of the woman striking a child, the mother said.

No one was arrested during the initial tussle between Laura Pantano — whose 4-year-old daughter has since left Lincoln Martí — and daycare worker Clara Luz Quintero-Gonzalez. But after a week of interviews and surveillance, Miami Beach police arrested Quintero-Gonzalez on Thursday.

Police released copies of the daycare worker’s arrest affidavit and incident report from the Aug. 25 fight, but weren’t saying much else.

“There were four separate victims, all 2 and 3 years old,” said Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez. “Detectives were able to view surveillance, with which the interviews, led to the charges.”

Quintero-Gonazalez’s arrest affidavit and the incident report from last week show she was taken into custody Thursday and charged with four counts of child abuse, and one count each of child neglect and torture.

By Thursday afternoon, Quintero-Gonzalez, 54, of 7227 Bay Dr., had been booked into the Turner Guilford Knight correctional center. Her bond was set at $30,000, but she was ordered held until she faces a judge, likely Friday morning.

Police said that in one of the instances, Quintero-Gonzalez slapped and yanked a 2-year-old’s arm, grabbed the child by his shoulders and shook him, slapped his face, then repeatedly slapped his hands.

“In the same video for several minutes the children in the classroom, ages 2 and 3 , can be seen running around repeatedly striking each other, throwing items not in the clear eye of the teacher,” an officer wrote in Quintero-Gonzalez’s arrest affidavit.

Police said in a sworn statement that Quintero-Gonzalez denied hitting the children, even after she was shown the video. In Spanish, police said, she said it was nothing. Police also said Quintero-Gonzalez signed off on a school policy when she was hired that does not permit corporal punishment.

Administrators at Lincoln Martí Daycare wouldn’t comment Thursday.

The school is part of the larger Lincoln Martí school chain that operates 50 campuses across Miami-Dade and has more than 7,000 students. Lincoln Martí’s founder is former Miami-Dade School Board member Demetrio Perez Jr. He could not be reached Thursday.

Pantano, whose complaint initiated the investigation of Quintero-Gonzalez, said police were initially notified of the daycare worker’s alleged actions the afternoon of Aug. 25. That’s when, Pantano said, she became so overwhelmed after viewing the daycare worker strike a little boy that she stormed upstairs to confront her.

“I was infuriated. I made a big scene,” said Pantano.

The two tussled. No one was arrested. But police began an investigation. Pantano said school administrators told police that the surveillance cameras did not record.

Pantano — who said her daughter was never struck by Quintero-Gonzalez — said she watched the incident on a surveillance camera on a computer on a desk that was just inside the school’s front door. She said she still doesn’t understand why no one else was able to see what was happening to the children.

Police, who spent the past week conducting interviews, managed to save 10 minutes worth of the recordings. Pantano said she was told that by detectives who called her Thursday morning to thank her for coming forward.

The Miami Beach single mom said her daughter has told her repeatedly over the past year that the counselor was shaking and hurting children. When Pantano took her daughter to the first day of school this year, the child said she did not want to attend.

Pantano said she repeatedly told school director Yanet Perez about her concerns and those complaints were repeatedly brushed aside.

Perez, reached on her cellphone Thursday, refused to comment. She said she couldn’t speak because the case was still under investigation.

“I warned them [before the Aug. 25 confrontation with Quintero-Gonzalez] that I was going to give them one week. Then I was going to go to the police,” Pantano said. “My daughter would tell me the stories and it would make me sick.”

Miami Beach police said the state’s Department of Children & Families has been notified.