DUNEDIN, Fla. — A preschool teacher near Tampa, Florida faces a charge of felony child abuse afterthe sheriff's office said she was seen punching a 4-year-old child in the head on Wednesday.
The sheriff's office said deputies were called to the Kindercare Learning Center in Dunedin.
The witness told authorities they heard screaming coming from the playground and saw Ashley Richards, 32, repeatedly punching the toddler "to the back and side of the head" with both an open and closed fist.
The sheriff's office said Richards was also seen pushing the child to the ground and yelling, "Do you want me to hit you?" The witness captured part of the incident on their cellphone, authorities said.
According to an arrest report, the witness video captured Richards pulling the toddler over her legs to lay him down on her lap before she punches what "appears to be the child's head with a closed first multiple times." The report said she then forcefully pushed the victim to the ground.
The toddler told authorities he got in trouble for fighting with his brother and he was hit by Richards in the back of his head and eye as punishment, according to the arrest report.
The report said Richards admitted to putting her hand over the victim's mouth when he laughed at her but denied hitting or punching him.
A parent picking up his kids from the preschool on Thursday told ABC Action News he was as shocked as anyone.
“I mean it’s unfortunate. I don’t know all the details. Thankfully, we live in a country where there is due process, and she’ll be able to stand trial and plead her case," the parent, who did not want to provide his name, said. "I had never had any negative interactions. She’d been nothing but respectful to me and my family, my children,"
Richards was hired at the learning center in March 2021. The sheriff's office said she's on administrative leave as a result of the alleged abuse.
Richards was arrested and taken to the Pinellas County Jail.
Kindercare Learning Companies provided the following statement on the arrest:
"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the children in our care. 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."
This story was originally published by WFTS in Tampa, Florida.