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Charges say kids abused at UA day care

by Jaime Adame | June 23, 2020 at 7:26 a.m.
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FAYETTEVILLE -- A former University of Arkansas day care center worker was charged Monday with sexually assaulting two children.

Joseph Charles O'Neill, 31, faces two counts of second-degree sexual assault, according to documents filed in Washington County Circuit Court.

Matt Durrett, Washington County prosecuting attorney, confirmed Monday that the charges are based on assaults that allegedly took place at the Jean Tyson Child Development Study Center on the UA campus.

The university hired O'Neill on Aug. 12 to work at the center, a UA spokeswoman has said. He was already suspended and banned from the center when university police arrested him on March 4. The center fired him that day, according to UA.

O'Neill, listed in jail records as a Fayetteville resident, was released from custody on March 5 on a $50,000 bond.

Court documents state that the assaults took place on or about March 2. Each count of assault states that the victim was 3 years old. Durrett said the charges refer to two victims.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Tyson center typically provided care for about 150 children daily, according to the university. After O'Neill's arrest, officials with the center said that staff members called the state's child-abuse hotline as soon as they learned of the allegations.

The center closed in mid-March because of the pandemic and is scheduled to reopen July 1 with reduced enrollment, UA spokeswoman Amy Schlesing said Monday.

UA released O'Neill's application to work at the center under the state's public-disclosure law.

In a cover letter dated Nov. 3, O'Neill stated that he was seeking a position as an assistant infant/toddler teacher after having worked as a substitute and "full-time aide" at the Tyson child development center. The center provides care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, according to its website.

O'Neill's application materials list time spent working from 2011-13 as a youth care worker at the Piney Ridge Treatment Center in Fayetteville. The residential center provides care for patients ages 7 to 17 "who have sexually problematic behaviors in addition to a major mental illness," the center's website states. O'Neill stated that he managed activities for "teenage residents."

O'Neill earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture and a master's degree in entomology from UA, according to his application materials. He listed other jobs working with children, including as an English tutor and teacher in Vietnam in 2017 and working as a full-time live-in nanny for children ages 1 and 4 years old in Washington state in 2018.

Each count of second-degree sexual assault is considered a Class B felony by the state. A person convicted of a Class B felony is sentenced to five to 20 years in prison.

Durrett said O'Neill's arraignment is set for Wednesday.

CORRECTION: A man charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault was released from custody on March 5 on a $50,000 bond. An earlier version of this story's headline incorrectly reported his status.

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