The head of a child welfare agency in Missouri has been arrested for allegedly choking a 12-year-old seated on a couch, a report said.
Vincent Hillyer, president and CEO of Great Circle Academy, was arrested Tuesday after a search of the nonprofit’s facility in Webster Groves, where a former employee told KMOV that a video recorded in March allegedly shows Hillyer putting the child in a chokehold.
Hillyer, 59, of Eureka, is now facing six counts of endangering the welfare of a child, attempted endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree assault.
A former employee at the facility, Joice Valentine, claimed Hillyer was frequently aggressive with students and that some workers were fired after reporting some of the incidents.
“I feel like the children aren’t safe,” Washington told KMOV. “They take in children and don’t provide the staff with enough training and then when things so wrong, they come and get on the staff.”
Hillyer can be seen on video “choking a child seated on a couch,” according to court documents obtained by the station. Hillyer’s attorney, Joel Schwartz, disputed that account, saying Hillyer restrained a child who bit him.
“He doesn’t choke anybody,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said the multiple counts of endangering the welfare of a child are apparently connected to an allegation that Hillyer crafted a policy barred staffers from calling police if a child needed help at the child welfare agency and alternative school.
Schwartz denied that allegation as well, saying Hillyer was not on the premises most of the time.
Hillyer, who requested to be placed on administrative leave on Wednesday, has been released from custody after posting bail. He’s due back in court on June 18, KMOV reports.
“As a board, we have full faith in the Great Circle team and its commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of the nearly 45,000 children and families we serve,” the child welfare agency said in a statement announcing Hillyer’s leave. “We remain confident in the therapeutic approach used in Great Circle facilities.”
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