Mother of 3-year-old sues The Sunshine House, employees following alleged assault in Aiken

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Dec. 1—The mother of a 3-year-old allegedly assaulted on Oct. 21 at The Sunshine House on Summerwood Way in Aiken is suing the corporation, the employee that is charged with the assault and the employee's supervisor.

The Sunshine House is a large daycare corporation with locations in 10 states.

The lawsuit, filed in common pleas court by Bamberg Legal on Wednesday, alleges the minor was physically abused, emotionally abused and neglected while in the company's care.

The lawsuit alleges D'aja Janeka Brown, 22, "grabbed [the minor] by the arm and slung [him] headfirst into a table thereby causing severe physical injury and emotional harm to [the minor]" at The Sunshine House on Oct. 21, according to the lawsuit.

According to The Sunshine House, Brown was employed by The Sunshine House for less than 60 days at the time of the incident. She is charged with unlawful neglect of a child or helpless person.

"This child was effectively tossed, head-first, into some cubbies," attorney Justin Bamberg said during a Dec. 1 press conference. "It's disgusting."

A large knot was apparent on the child's head at the time of the incident.

Bamberg said the knot on the child's head is still apparent after a month and the child is still undergoing medical treatment.

The lawsuit alleges EMS was not called, no medical attention was provided and the mother of the minor, Ashana Odom, was lied to about what happened.

"The only reason police were involved was because momma didn't believe the story," Bamberg said. "Momma called, not Sunshine House."

In an exclusive interview with the Aiken Standard on Nov. 3, Odom said she can't imagine abusing a child.

"I know how it is to be frustrated with kids, but I've never, ever done anything like that," Odom said. "You could put them in timeout, you could say, 'You can't go outside,' you could put him in a corner or take away his toy privileges, you could have done all of that — but you threw my son up against the table."

However, the lawsuit states the incident was not isolated.

"Minor children at Defendant Sunshine House's location have been subjected to neglect and abuse prior to October 21, 2021 as well," the lawsuit states. "Prior to October 21, 2021, Sunshine and its employees knew, should have known, and/or were made aware that Brown and/or other employees had physically and emotionally abused, mishandled, and otherwise provided improper care to toddlers, including Minor Child, in violation of the laws of the State of South Carolina and general daycare standards."

Previous charges against The Sunshine House were also mentioned.

"An employee of Sunshine had previously been criminally charged for child abuse and neglect at Sunshine. Sunshine failed to act on the previous reports in a reasonable manner, take appropriate steps to minimize or eliminate child abuse in its facility, and continued to operate out of ratio with regards to student-teacher ratio, continued to fail to adequately train new employees, and continued to fail to take reasonable steps necessary to protect minor children from harm in its facility," the lawsuit states.

In 2019, a Sunshine House employee was charged with five counts of unlawful conduct toward a child.

On April 23, 2019, the Aiken Department of Public Safety arrested Markita Rainey following the discovery of video footage showing unlawful conduct toward multiple children at the daycare.

Bamberg called for the location to be closed immediately and cited the other two locations in close proximity.

"It is understaffed, they have unqualified people that work there, and six children were mistreated," he said. "What is stopping them from closing it? Why would they keep a location open that's the subject of abuse and neglect — because money is more important to them than the well-being of children in South Carolina."

The Sunshine House released a statement saying the director at the Summerwood Way location witnessed a teacher mishandling the child.

"We contacted the parents of the child involved in the incident to notify them of the situation and how their child was involved," according to the release shared during the Dec. 1 press conference. "Our hearts are heavy over this incident. The safety and well-being of all children in our care is our highest priority, and we cannot stress enough how seriously we take this incident. We have zero tolerance for anyone harming a child."

At the end of the press conference, Bamberg added "if [Sunshine House] would like to fight, we will oblige them."

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