Bloomington mom, daughter indicted in day-care death

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 20, 2009 - 11:21 PM

Doris D. Meeks, 48, and Harmony S. Newman, 21, were indicted in last summer's death of 22-month-old Demar Joseph-Amir Hicks.

Demar Joseph-Amir Hicks

A Bloomington woman and her adult daughter have been indicted on multiple manslaughter charges in the death of a 22-month-old boy found strapped in a car seat in the woman's home day-care center last summer. He died two days later.

Doris D. Meeks, 48, and Harmony S. Newman, 21, were indicted by a grand jury Thursday. Each faces three counts of second-degree manslaughter in connection with child neglect, child endangerment and culpable negligence.

"The allegation in the indictment is there was not proper supervision. ... We adamantly deny that," said Craig Cascarano, Meeks' lawyer. "There was appropriate and proper supervision. I'm absolutely confident that she will be exonerated. Doris has been a licensed day-care provider for many years. There's certainly been no complaints. This is a tragic accident, but certainly not the fault of Doris Meeks."

Demar Joseph-Amir Hicks was put down for a nap Aug. 28 at Mama D's Day Care and was found unconscious a few hours later.

An autopsy determined he died after "being deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time," the Dakota County attorney's office said. Dakota County is handling the case because one of Demar's grandparents works for the Hennepin County attorney's office, creating a potential conflict of interest.

Prosecutors say the boy was found in a car seat in a playpen in the basement, with a buckle from the seat under his chin. He was not breathing and had no heartbeat. His heart was started again by paramedics as he was taken to Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina. He was transferred to Minneapolis Children's Hospital, where he died Aug. 30.

One of 23 kids at day care

Mama D's was licensed for 14 children, but on the day Demar was found in the car seat, 23 were in the home. The center's license was suspended last fall and remains suspended.

Authorities say Meeks had left, leaving Newman as the only adult in the home, which was required to have two present.

According to a search warrant filed last fall, Meeks told police she asked three children, ages 9 and 10, to take younger children downstairs for naps. There, they put Demar into a car seat in a playpen. Investigators say the children buckled the seat and left the room.

About 90 minutes later, Newman asked the same three to bring the children upstairs for lunch. Meeks left to take eight older children on a field trip, leaving Newman in charge of 15 children younger than 5, according to the search warrant. Two of the children, an 8-month-old and an 18-month-old, were awake, but Demar wouldn't wake up, authorities were told. Newman called Bloomington police, who found her doing CPR on Demar in the living room.

In a separate account, Newman told police she had put Demar down for a nap in a crib by himself. She said she later found him in another crib, strapped into a car seat, "something he has done before," according to the warrant. Cascarano contends Demar was not placed in the car seat for a nap, but was put into a playpen and then he crawled into the car seat.

'Arm of the prosecution'

"We were hopeful the grand jury would not indict Doris or the daughter, but the grand jury is often just an arm of the prosecution," he said. "We were not allowed to be there, but we will certainly have that opportunity in the future."

Five complaints had been made against the day care since it opened in 1999, but none was substantiated. County workers were at the day care in July and reported no problems.

Meeks and Newman made their first appearance before a Hennepin County judge Friday. Meeks will appear in court again March 23. Newman will appear March 6. Neither woman nor Demar's mother, Alexia Coleman, could be reached for comment.

Sheryl Warner, a licensed day-care provider who runs Loving to Learn Childcare in Minneapolis, commented on the indictment, particularly at just how over capacity Mama D's was.

"In working with children for so long, I know how there are just so many things that can happen that are totally accidental, but you're really pushing the envelope when you're caring for 23 children. And for one of the providers to leave, that's totally against our license and totally against the duty we have as providers to protect them," she said. "It is just very risky behavior."

Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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