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Livermore Child Care Workers Accused Of Abuse For Binding Babies

LIVERMORE (CBS SF) -- Two sisters accused of binding babies to their beds with blankets during naptime at a Livermore child care facility were arrested Wednesday morning and are facing a slew of child abuse and neglect charges, a Livermore police spokesman said.

Nazila Sharaf, 35, of Dublin, and Lida Sharaf, 33, of Mountain House, were arrested in their respective cities between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. without incident, Livermore Police spokesman Steve Goard said Wednesday. They both invoked their right to an attorney and are being held at the Santa Rita Jail in lieu of $700,000 bail.

Both women face three counts of felony child neglect and abuse and four counts of misdemeanor child neglect and abuse charges, according to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.

Livermore police concluded their investigation on Friday, one month after they were asked to aid the California Department of Social Services in the closure of the Universal Preschool LCC, located at 1040 Florence Road in Livermore, formerly known as the Sunnyside Infant and Preschool.

According to Goard, an extensive investigation that involved interviews of more than 30 parents revealed that both Nazila Sharaf and Lida Sharaf were allegedly binding at least seven of the babies' upper torsos and legs with blankets and other cloth-type materials in order to restrict their movement during naps.

Using knots as fasteners, the suspects allegedly restricted the babies' ability to breathe comfortably and move their extremities, according to Goard.

Police also say the suspects threw blankets over the faces of the babies, and with the extremities tied down, prevented the babies' ability to remove the blanket from their face, Goard said.

The babies ranged in age from 7 months to 11 months old.

During the investigation, Goard said detectives learned that three of the victims suffered from upper respiratory conditions, of which the sisters were allegedly aware.

"Having knowledge of the respiratory conditions, the two suspects still tightly bound the victims' upper torso and legs," Goard said. "Tightly binding a child with an upper respiratory condition seriously compromises and child's ability to breathe, which could lead to death."

According to the district attorney's Declaration of Probable Cause in the matter, Nazila Sharaf allegedly grabbed three infants "out of frustration." It reads, "Nazila would grab one of the child's arms and carry the child from one place to another. Grabbing an infant by one arm and lifting them off of the ground could cause the arm to break, ligaments to tear or a spiral fracture."

Authorities were alerted of the alleged activity by a 19-year-old former employee who quit the facility on her own volition in late 2011, Goard said.

"I believe this is the definition of courage—to see what is going on and to quit out of disgust—she was adamant and was going to let someone know there was something wrong going on there," Goard said. "She blew the whistle."

The former employee, whose name has been sealed to protect her privacy, filed complaints with state licensing, which conducted its own investigation. At issue was whether the sisters, owners of the facility, were swaddling. According to Goard, it was determined that swaddling of an infant over the age of 6 months should be done only at the request of the parent.

According to the district attorney's report, the restraining caused the babies to suffer both mentally and physically.

"The babies had to lie in their cribs with an object placed over their faces and breathe limited air for several hours a day," the report reads. "Also, fully covering a restrained infant with a blanket prevented Lida and Nazila from being able to properly supervise the babies and ensure the babies were not in distress, asphyxiating, or in need of medical attention."

This is not Lida Sharaf's first brush with this type of licensing violation, according to a health and safety code complaint on Universal Preschool LLC by the California Department of Social Services.

The report reads that on June 9, 2010, a prior disciplinary action revoked Lida Sharaf's license to operate a childcare or infant care facility.

The report, which provides a history of health and safety violations dating back to November 2010, cites Universal Preschool LLC for numerous violations, including license capacity, asking a department inspector to falsify or conceal information and falsely claiming that infants do not co-mingle with preschool students. There are also claims of having unlicensed employees caring for the children, according to the report.

These violations, along with the restraining allegations forced the Department of Social Services to invoke a temporary suspension order, which closes a facility immediately, according to Michael Weston, deputy director of public affairs and outreach programs for the California Department of Social Services.

Phones at the childcare facility went straight to voice mail.

On its website, the childcare facility states, "It is our philosophy that children learn best in an environment that is uninhibited and filled with enriching opportunities."

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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