Angered that the Howard County State’s Attorney’s office declined to file charges after what it called an extensive investigation into sexual abuse allegations at an Ellicott City child care center, a group of parents is suing the church-based center alleging it did nothing while an employee sexually abused their young children from 2018-2019.
The lawsuit filed in Howard County District Court this month against the Glen Mar Early Learning Center of the Glen Mar United Methodist Church seeks damages, and also names the learning center’s former director as a defendant.
The families also are asking the police department and state’s attorney’s office to reopen their investigation, claiming in a statement that a previous investigation was “superficial and highly incomplete.”
“Not only did the Glen Mar Early Learning Center enable and ignore the sexual abuse of several children over two years, but we are very concerned that the law enforcement response has been incomplete and inadequate, allowing [the employee] to work in other daycare centers,” said attorney Michael Dolce in a statement released Monday.
“We do not understand why the Howard County law enforcement response disregarded such substantial evidence, including video and medical proof, failed to pursue additional leads and treated the victims’ parents so poorly...," he said. "These children and their families deserve better than they have gotten to date, and we hope this will now be taken more seriously.”
The Baltimore Sun is not naming the employee since he has not been criminally charged and is not listed as a defendant in the complaint.
A Howard County police spokeswoman referred questions about the case to the state’s attorney’s office.
In a statement, the state’s attorney’s office said prosecutors “thoroughly examined all the evidence in the Glen Mar Early Learning Center case, including e-mails, officer’s notes, more than 12 hours of videotaped recordings involving more than 30 witnesses and the viewing of approximately 160 hours of classroom footage,” but concluded the evidence did not rise to the level of criminal charges.
Additionally, the office said prosecutors met with one parent of the alleged victims, and reopened the case when additional information was provided. The state’s attorney’s office said prosecutors offered to meet with the other plaintiffs in the case, but the families have not made themselves available.
“We understand and share their concerns, but we stand firm in our decision that there was not sufficient evidence presented to us to file any criminal charges against the defendant in this case,” the state’s attorney’s office said. “If any new information were to come to light, we would be more than willing to fully examine it.”
Calls to the Glen Mar Early Learning Center were not returned Monday. Lynda Celmer, the center’s former director, could not be reached for comment and did not have an attorney listed in online court records.
Kyri Jacobs, a spokeswoman hired by Glen Mar United Methodist Church, said in an email that the church has yet to receive a copy of the complaint and declined further comment because the litigation is pending.
The families filed the lawsuit anonymously.
According to the statement from the plaintiffs, two families notified Celmer about complaints against a male employee in 2018. The plaintiffs allege Celmer told those families she would alert law enforcement authorities and suspend the employee, but she did neither. The plaintiffs allege the employee then abused five other children.
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The families said they believe law enforcement has enough evidence to bring criminal charges, including detailed accounts from the children, some of whom described the abuse to mental health professionals.
“We’re hoping that law enforcement will revisit this decision," Dolce said in an interview.
Dolce said the employee denied the abuse in interviews, but his interview conflicted with footage captured on the center’s surveillance video.
The complaint said the video also shows the employee engage in “sexually inappropriate and very suspicious behavior” with children, such as rubbing his hands on the chest and pelvic area. The complaint said the employee also was seen holding up his phone during the interactions to “possibly photograph or videotape what he was doing."
The complaint further alleges the employee would regularly violate the center’s rules, and would accompany children alone to the bathroom for as long as 15 minutes.
“The way that our concerns were handled by the Howard County Police Department is disheartening, to say the least. My child was molested and somehow, we were treated like we were the problem...,” one parent said in a statement from the attorney’s office. “Beyond the irreparable damage done to our family, our concerns lie with the families of other children who may not yet know of the potential their children were abused.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Nathan Ruiz contributed to this report.