‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’: Waco daycare owner, employee sentenced in assault that broke boy’s elbow, dislocated shoulder

Pepper Jones gets a year in jail, 10 years probation
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 6:19 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The former owner of a Waco day care and one of her employees who admitted injuring, and physically and emotionally abusing children in their care in 2017, were sentenced Tuesday in a hearing attended by angry parents and grandparents.

Judge Susan Kelly of Waco’s 54th State District Court sentenced Pepper Jones to 12 months in a state jail facility, but placed her on probation for 10 years on the most serious charge. The judge also ordered her to perform 300 hours of community service, pay $2,150 in restitution to victims and prohibited her from working in child care during the duration of her probation.

Jones, 42, former owner of Miss Pepper’s Day Care, 3800 Lasker Ave., pleaded guilty in May to one count of injury to a child and seven counts of endangering a child by failing to protect them from her employee, Brittany Hale. Jones admitted breaking a young boy’s elbow and dislocating his shoulder.

Hale, 36, pleaded guilty to six counts of injury to a child and agreed to testify against Jones as a condition of her plea agreement. The judge placed her on deferred probation for 10 year, in accordance with her plea agreement with prosecutors Tara Avants and Will Hix. The prosecutors made no sentencing recommendation in Jones’ cases, leaving her punishment – potentially up to 10 years in prison - up to Kelly.

Kelly also ordered Hale to perform 300 hours of community service, fined her $1,000, ordered her to pay $2,150 in restitution and ordered her to serve six months in the county jail as a term and condition of her probation.

The judge conducted a daylong sentencing hearing in September in which angry parents of children who were injured at the day care and a former Waco police detective testified. After that hearing, Kelly delayed sentencing until Tuesday.

Former Waco police detective Kim Clark testified video footage from the day care showed about a dozen children between the ages of 10 months and 2 were physically abused by Hale and Jones, including breaking the boy’s elbow and dislocating his shoulder, dragging kids around by the hair and ears, shoving them to the ground and striking them.

Clark said there also was evidence that Jones and Hale force-fed the children to the point of making them throw up and then forcing the kids to eat their own vomit.

While Jones claims to have been cooperative with the investigation, Clark testified there is about five minutes of video missing from the surveillance camera feed that would have been the time that Jones yanked or jerked the boy’s arm so hard that it broke a bone in his right arm and dislocated his shoulder.

Brian Howell, Jones’ attorney, declined comment after the sentencing hearing. Hale’s attorney, Whitney Fanning, said his client has paid a steep price for her involvement in the day care scandal.

“She paid her price and she will be paying that price for the rest of her life,” Fanning said. “She took full responsibility for her actions. She didn’t try to get out of anything and she was just as contrite as she can be.”

Jones testified at a hearing in September that she lost her business, her livelihood, her home, and custody of her kids as a result of the incident.

“I failed you and I failed you miserably,” Jones said in September, addressing the courtroom full of the children’s family members. “I failed my children. I failed about as hardcore as you can fail and I know I don’t deserve your mercy. I’m truly sorry for everything you are going through and I am sorry for making you doubt yourselves as parents. I’m so sorry for that.”

However, a mother, an aunt, a grandmother and two fathers of children, said in victim-impact statements that they feel like they failed as parents because they were taken in by Jones, whom one called “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Jordan Benson, the mother of the toddler whose elbow was broken, said Jones tried to claim that her son was overly aggressive and even asked if she or her husband might have injured his arm and shoulder over the weekend.

She said on the morning her son was injured, Jones called her, and using a “sugary sweet voice” that she descried as “cringeworthy,” told her to come pick up her son.

They rushed him to the doctor, where they were told there was no way her son injured himself or that the injury was caused by another young child.

She said she has relied on a Bible verse from Genesis – “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” – to help her cope with the trauma her family has suffered and continues to deal with.

None of the family members who gave victim-impact statements or who were interviewed after the hearing were happy with the sentences meted out to either of the women.

Most said their children are still suffering lasting-effects from the abuse, including eating and sleeping disorders, trust issues and not allowing anyone to touch, wash or brush their hair. Some refuse to wear earrings because their ears were pulled, they said.

Desirae Stranacher told Jones in a victim-impact statement that she tortured her daughter because she is sick and asked how she can live with herself.

“There is no cure for your kind of evil,” she said.

Katie Van Antwerp, whose niece was abused by Jones and Hale, said she wanted Jones to go to prison because she put her sister’s family and others “in a mental prison for years.”

“What you got today was nothing, nothing at all compared to what you have done to our children,” said Sherry Crawford, the grandmother of a child formerly in Jones’ care.

“The Court’s pronouncement of the sentences today finalized two cases that have been pending for approximately five years,” said prosecutor Tara Avants, “We appreciate the diligent work of the Waco Police Department on their investigation of these cases and the patience and cooperation of the victims’ families. Although we know these crimes will have long-lasting impacts on these children and their families, we hope today brought them some sense of closure to this chapter of their lives and the victimization they endured.”