Vengeance or justice?

Vengeance or justice?

The death last year of 2-year-old Olivia Raspanti at a daycare center in Hicksville was a heartbreaking tragedy. The child choked to death on a baby carrot that she found in a teacher’s bag. To this day there has been no evidence that this was anything more than a heartbreaking accident.

Last week a Nassau County Judge sentenced Eugene Formica, 65, the owner of the Carousel Day Care Center, to three years probation. The sentence was part of a plea deal. Formica and the center’s director were originally charged with reckless assault of a child by a day care provider; reckless endangerment – 2nd degree; misrepresentation by a child care provider; and violation of Social Services Law 390. The assault charge is a Class E felony and a conviction could have put the Formica in prison for up to four years.

We are not convinced that justice was served. The original charges were announced at a press conference on May 20, 2009 that included Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey and Dr. Janice Molnar, deputy commissioner for child care services for the New York State Office and Child and Family Services. At the time Rice was preparing to run for the position of state Attorney General and Office and Chilld and Family Services was rocked by high-profile reports of abuse at residential centers operating under Office and Chilld and Family Services contracts.

According to undisputed reports, the staff at the day care center responded quickly and appropriately when they realized the child was choking. They attempted to clear the obstruction from the child’s throat, began CPR and called 911. Olivia’s mother was working as an aide at Carousel on the day this happened. She must have believed that Carousel was offered quality care.

The charges resulted from the fact that Carousel, which has been in existence since 1956, was not licensed to care for toddlers. We assume that this day care center was routinely inspected by the county. It was not a secret operation.

The law states that schools and day care centers should keep all objects that represent a possible choking hazard out of the reach of children. That someone left the baby carrots where a child could get to them was a terrible mistake. But it was not a criminal act and it most certainly was not felony “reckless assault.”

Under the circumstances Formica’s lawyers were correct in advising him to take the plea. Going to trial would have been costly and very risky. The probation sentence is largely symbolic. The overwhelmed and underfunded Nassau County Department of Probation will probably only meet with him once or twice during this time. He’s not a criminal and they know it.

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