Nanny sentenced in Sykesville child-abuse case

Woman caught on camera gets two weekends in jail

January 09, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

When the time came yesterday for a nanny to be sentenced for mistreating a 16-month-old boy in her care, prosecutors let a surreptitiously recorded digital video do most of the talking.

Cast upon a courtroom wall were images of the 23-year-old woman shaking and slapping the boy and throwing him against a wall in his Sykesville home.

Prosecutor Natasha M. Byus reminded the court that the nanny had claimed to police that nothing unusual happened at the home.

Gesturing toward the makeshift projection screen, she added, "This is what `nothing out of the ordinary happened' means to her."

The footage, which captured a scene feared by many parents who entrust their children to others, "was the case," Byus said after the hearing.

While no physical evidence showed that the child had been injured, the tape played a pivotal role in persuading the nanny, Christine N. Anderson, formerly of Eldersburg, to plead guilty to attempted child abuse, the prosecutor said.

Anderson, who lives in North Carolina, was sentenced yesterday to two weekends in jail and three years of supervised probation.

She is barred from baby-sitting children other than her own and is required to complete courses in parent skills and anger management, under an order from Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway.

The use of the concealed camera to record a baby-sitter's transgression was a first for Carroll County prosecutors.

But news accounts describe how so-called "nanny cams" have been used as the defining piece of evidence in court cases in Ohio and California, and how their popularity seemed to surge in 1997 after the death of an 8-month-old boy at the hands of his British au pair, Louise Woodward.

These days, hidden surveillance cameras are widely offered on the Internet; pop-up ads feature cameras capable of espionage for as little as $80.

The technology exists for the public to take home minicameras disguised as smoke alarms or hidden in vases, flower pots or anywhere a small hole can be drilled, said Hoyt Scott, who sells the devices through Mark Electronics Supply Co. based in Beltsville.

He said cameras run from $105 to $200, while more elaborate systems start at $1,200.

The systems are easy to install, he said, and are frequently used by people who want to know whether housekeepers are stealing or their lovers are being unfaithful.

Mark Doyle said a "gut feeling" that something was wrong prompted him and his wife, Peggy, to buy a camera costing $1,100 to monitor the behavior of their son's nanny, who had been watching the boy for nearly a year.

In March, he planted the camera, disguised as a motion detector for an alarm system, above the living room television. He recorded two days of footage on his computer hard drive - and fired Anderson after the second day.

After a two-month investigation by state police, Anderson was charged in May with two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of attempted child abuse by a custodian and two counts of reckless endangerment.

In November, she pleaded guilty to one count of attempted child abuse, a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 15 years.

About 25 minutes of Doyle's recordings were shown in court at Anderson's sentencing hearing yesterday.

Footage shows Anderson, who was six months' pregnant, sitting on the couch and turning her head to yell at the toddler sitting and playing by himself in the back of the room.

Several times Anderson gets up from the couch and stands over the child, shaking him, pulling him by an arm or his head.

At one point, she drags the child by an arm to a wall and makes him stand facing it, arms outstretched, much like a suspect being frisked by police officers, for five minutes.

In court yesterday, the Doyles glared at Anderson, whose husband sat a couple of rows behind her.

Through tears, Peggy Doyle told the judge that on the day that the camera captured Anderson's actions, she was told by the nanny that her son "was having a good day, that they were playing and reading books.

"If this is what Ms. Anderson considers a good day, I shudder to think what happened to my baby on days that weren't good," she added.

Anderson apologized.

"I'm truly sorry," she said facing the Doyles to her right, her face tear-streaked. They showed no reaction.

Afterward, they expressed disappointment with the sentence.

Peggy Doyle said she works part-time as a hardware store manager so she can take care of her son, who otherwise stays only with close relatives.

"I'll never trust anybody again with him," she said.

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