Grand jury indicts daycare worker for drowning death of 7-year-old

Daycare operator Tianna Edwards
Philadelphia Police Department. Tianna Edwards, 31.

A grand jury on Friday charged Tianna Edwards in connection with last summer’s drowning death of 7-year-old Isear Jeffcoat, the District Attorney’s Office announced Monday. Edwards formerly operated Tianna’s Terrific Tots daycare, which had locations on Germantown Avenue, Lawndale Street and Rising Sun Avenue.

“I’m not surprised by any of the charges,” said attorney Nancy Winkler, who is representing Jeffcoat’s mother in a civil suit against Edwards.

“What has happened is something really egregious, and finally the D.A.’s office did what they needed to do a long time ago.”

Edwards was in January charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangerment for allegedly contributing to Jeffcoat’s death by failing to properly oversee his care.

The indictment brings additional charges of fraud, theft by deception and tampering with public records in connection with Edwards’ alleged use of her sister Nikita Smith’s name to obtain a daycare license.

Edwards’ criminal record – which includes convictions for theft, providing false identification to law enforcement and carrying unlicensed firearms – precludes her from operating a daycare in the state.

The civil suit claims DPW officials were aware of the fraud long before Jeffcoat’s death. “What happened never needed to happen,” Winkler said.

“There was a state agency charged with overseeing day cares that had information leading them to believe Tianna Edwards had fraudulently obtained a daycare license prior to the time of Isear’s death, and they never shut her down.”

The suit also claims the DPW should have further investigated all of Edwards’ locations after a laundry list of safety violations caused officials to shutter one of them.

“Even when they knew one of Edwards’ facilities had to be urgently shut down, they never bothered to look at a second location,” Winkler said. “Those are the kinds of things we hope to change.”

“The DPW is there to oversee child care centers in Pennsylvania so that our most innocent and vulnerable residents are safe and that is something that they failed to do in this instance,” she continued.

“I’m concerned that this failure is not just an isolated failure. I think there needs to be changes, system-wide.”

 

Laundry list

 

The civil suit claims DPW officials should have been aware of hazardous and negligent conditions at Tianna’s Terrific Tots long before Jeffcoat’s death. Among the allegations:

>> A child in 2010 fell unconscious at one of Edwards’ daycare locations after swallowing a battery and later died.

>> The DPW in December of 2011 met with representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, which had charged Edwards with insurance fraud in an unrelated case. Though DPW officials confirmed through a photo comparison that Edwards was using Smith’s identity to operate her daycares, no action was taken.

>> The Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into Edwards’ alleged identity theft in January of 2012, but took no action to shut down her day care locations.

>> The daycare’s Germantown Avenue location was shut down just two months before Jeffcoat’s death due to a laundry list of safety violations that Winkler said “put children’s’ lives in jeopardy.”

>> A separate suit filed against the daycare in January alleges that an employee at the Lawndale Street location two years ago lifted and swung a child so hard he fractured his elbow, sustaining permanent nerve damage.

 

Isear’s last moments

 

The civil suit filed late last month paints a harrowing portrait of Isear’s last moments. The complaint states that Edwards took Isear and 20 other children from the daycare to the home of her mother, Emma Cox-Watson. Edwards then allegedly went gambling.

Cox-Watson was seen consuming alcohol that day and eventually became so drunk “she urinated on the front lawn,” according to the complaint.

It further states that Van “Boobie” Williams, the worker tasked with watching the children as they swam in Watson’s pool, had a criminal record rendering him ineligible to work in a day care.

Isear was allegedly permitted to play in the murky pool without flotation devices despite the fact he couldn’t swim. He was last seen by other children sliding into the pool’s deep end some time after lunch.

The suit claims Isear apparently struggled to stay afloat at some point, but no attempt was made to rescue him.

Though Edwards later told staffers to search the bottom of the pool for Isear – instructing one to use a brush and another to buy goggles at a nearby drugstore – she told police and his parents that the child was “missing,” not that she suspected he drowned.

Police recovered Isear’s body from the bottom of the pool 10 hours later. The water was so cloudy that divers had to be dispatched to complete the search.


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