'Baby fight club': Second teacher convicted of child cruelty

Kierra Spriggs. © Prince William County Police
A second Virginia day care teacher has been convicted of child cruelty, among other counts, for her part in creating an abusive atmosphere for two-year-olds in her care that prosecutors described as a "baby fight club."

Kierra Spriggs, 26, was convicted on Thursday on four felony counts of child cruelty and two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery, AP reported. She was acquitted of 14 counts, while a judge threw out three misdemeanor convictions for contributing to the delinquency of a minor because prosecutors failed to offer sufficient evidence.

A jury recommended jail sentences ranging from three to 12 months for the six counts for which she was convicted. Spriggs also faces an additional jail term of almost three years when she is officially sentenced in May.

Spriggs was on trial for her role in classroom abuse while she was a day care teacher at Minnieland Academy at the Glen in Prince William County, Virginia. In January, fellow teacher Sarah Jordan, 31, was  convicted for her part in day care abuse that included forcing toddlers to fight. Jordan was found guilty of seven felony counts and six misdemeanor counts, including assault, battery, and child cruelty. Jordan will be sentenced in May and faces up to 41 years in prison.

Jordan and Spriggs physically and emotionally abused the children for sport during an eight-month span in 2013, state documents said. In addition to making children fight one another, state services reported that the two fed the children spicy Flamin' Hot Cheetos, called one girl ugly, and tormented children who were afraid of water by spraying a hose in their faces.

During Jordan's trial, one prosecutor said in her closing arguments that the environment cultivated by Jordan was “almost creating like a baby fight club,” doing great psychological damage to the toddlers involved.

Jordan and Spriggs were teachers in the "monkey room" at Minnieland Academy that included about 20 toddlers, ages 18 to 27 months.

Two other teachers testified that Spriggs mistreated children, encouraged twin sisters to fight one another, gleefully stepped on children's toes, snapped their hands with rubber bands, and made children cry. The teachers also testified that they told their supervisors about the problematic behavior, but no action was taken. They then notified state welfare agents, who investigated the accusations.

Parents of children in the "monkey room" said their kids, in a crucial developmental stage, began acting out and exhibited hesitation about going back to the care center. Some parents said their kids began to step on others' toes and laugh.

"That's not terrible twos. That's mimicking," prosecutor Ashleigh Landers said during the trial.

During her trial, Spriggs did not take the stand in her own defense. Her defense argued other teachers at Minnieland only testified against Spriggs following a workplace dispute. Patrick Foltz, Spriggs' attorney, questioned how making kids eat Flamin' Hot Cheetos could be shown as abusive given the prosecution did not introduce evidence to prove the food's spiciness.

"Is it felony torture if nobody's told you a Flamin' Hot Cheeto is hot? How hot is it? You don't know," Foltz said during closing arguments.

In the sentencing phase of the trial, parents described the effect of the abuse on their children. "I don't know the full extent of what happened in the monkey room, but I know it changed her," parent Traci Helmick said of her child.

James J. McCoart III, an attorney representing some of the parents involved, said families will file civil lawsuits against Minnieland "for the ongoing abuse committed upon their children."

Minnieland Academy at the Glen, located in Woodbridge, is one of 50 day care centers operated by Minnieland and is located next to the company's corporate headquarters, according to AP.