DUNEDIN — A preschool teacher is facing a felony child abuse charge after deputies say she repeatedly punched a 4-year-old child in the head while on a playground at the facility.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Ashley Richards, 32, at Dunedin KinderCare, 1990 Main St., around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
A witness called authorities after she heard screaming on the playground, the Sherriff’s Office said. The witness saw Richards yelling at the child and punching him with “both an open hand and a closed fist in the back of the head and side of the head,” according to an arrest affidavit.
Richards also pushed the 4-year-old to the ground, the witness told deputies. At that point, the witness began recording the incident on her cellphone, the affidavit said.
Deputies watched the video and said it showed Richards pulling the child over her legs and continuing to punch him, according to the affidavit.
“Do you want me to hit you?” Richards can be heard asking the child on the video, according to the affidavit.
The 4-year-old told deputies during an interview that he was in trouble for fighting with his brother, and Richards hit him “as a form of punishment,” the affidavit said.
Richards admitted to deputies that she put her hand over the 4-year-old’s mouth when he laughed at her, for reasons not specified in the affidavit, but she denied hitting or punching him.
She said the boy was upset and she was consoling him, according to the affidavit. The affidavit did not specify why Richards thought the child was upset.
Richards has been employed as a preschool teacher at KinderCare Learning Center since March 2021, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
In response to a request for comment, Colleen Moran, a public relations manager for KinderCare Learning Companies, emailed a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that said, in part, “The teacher’s alleged actions do not reflect who we are or the training we provide our teachers, We are working with the police to determine what may or may not have happened. In the meantime, the teacher involved is on administrative leave until further notice.”
Richards was booked into the Pinellas County Jail and released on a $5,000 bond, according to jail records.
This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.