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'Like a punch in the stomach': Lee's Summit day care owner offered plea deal in sexual-abuse case

Families say justice system failed them
Little Learner daycare.jpg
Posted at 9:22 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 23:38:35-04

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. — Editor's Note: 41 Action News is not naming or showing the faces of the families involved to protect their daughters' identities since they are alleged victims of sexual assault. However, we are showing the mugshots for the day care owner and her son because, as part of their bond conditions, they are not allowed to be around children. If you believe your child has been around them, you're urged to contact the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office.

Fearless, strong-willed, sweet and caring. That's how one Lee's Summit father described his 7-year-old daughter. But, ever since he said she was sexually assaulted at the Little Learner day care two years ago, there are moments of vulnerability, too.

"One of the big things that's come out of that, she'll have these random anxiety attacks and she'll just start crying and it will be uncontrollable," he said.

Meanwhile across town, another mother described her 7-year-old daughter as once carefree and outgoing. But, she, too, has changed after these families found themselves facing the unthinkable.

"There are times she is reserved for us, before she wouldn’t be there," her mother said, adding there are times her daughter has terrible nightmares. "There’s been times where she looks around just to make sure she can see myself and my husband, I think, just to make sure everything's OK."

This all started two years ago, when the first girl, then 5 years old, told a teacher at the Lee's Summit daycare that a male employee, Joseph Hammerly, took her to the bathroom and "put his 'private' in her mouth."

Afterward, she said he gave her "apple candies" and told her not to tell anyone.

Court documents reference video surveillance that shows Hammerly leading the girl into the bathroom, then allowing her to take candy out of a prize box afterward.

"Not only does he take her into the bathroom, but the stuff he does before going to the bathroom, it's just horrendous as well, and he does it in for you with all the other children," the father said.

The teacher his daughter confided to told the owner, Emily Hammerly, who also is Joseph's mother, according to a probable cause statement.

But Emily Hammerly is accused of failing to report the alleged abuse, and allowing her son to come to work that day, while the girl was still there.

The same court documents state that Emily Hammerly admitted "she did not instruct any of the employees to 'hotline' it," adding "after she spoke with him (Joseph), there was nothing she found odd, concerning or disbelieving, and felt good after their conversation. Emily stated she allowed Joseph to continue working his Thursday and Friday shift, so it didn't appear like he was 'hiding' anything."

As a result, she faces a child-endangerment charge, while her son is facing separate felony charges.

"And people deserve jail time," the first alleged victim's father said. "You know, what Joseph did is obviously... you know, I'd like to see him gone for the rest of his life. I don't know if that's an option, 20+ years is on the table. And I think his mom deserves jail time, too."

Since 41 Action News first reported on this case in 2019, those charges have been extended to cover three girls, all 5 years old at the time of the alleged incidents.

For two years, they've been waiting to go to trial, hoping for justice.

But this week the families said the Jackson County Prosecutor's office announced they're offering the mother a plea deal that takes prison time off the table.

"As far as we are aware she is getting a misdemeanor," the mother of the second alleged victim said. "We would prefer to have a stronger consequence for her, for what was done."

As a result, they've written letters to the judge, begging him to reject the plea deal and ensure the Hammerlys are never allowed around children again. They've even reached out to the Missouri Attorney General, asking him to intervene.

Now, they're taking the case to the public.

"And then they came back with this favorable deal for Emily, and it's just like, it's like a punch in the stomach," the father said. "We don't know what to do. That's why we're telling her story. I want to get it out there."

For these families, they said it's about getting justice for their daughters so they can all start to heal.

Emily Hammerly is due in court on Monday. Her son, Joseph Hammerly, is due in court late next month.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said while her office is pursuing prison time for Joseph Hammerly, she said the victims were told early on that Emily's case would qualify for probation, though the possibility of a felony charge still is on the table.

Peters Baker said she couldn't comment further to avoid jeopardizing either case, only sharing, in general, her primary concern is trying to avoid calling a child victim to the stand.

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