Child-on-child sex assault alleged at casino

Firm News

(STAR TRIBUNE) Authorities are investigating the possible sexual assault last week of a 3-year-old boy by an older child inside a child-care facility at Grand Casino Mille Lacs near Onamia, Minn.

The Kids Quest center, which is not owned by the tribe and leases space at the casino, cares for children of casino customers on a drop-in, hourly basis. It was closed temporarily Tuesday while authorities for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, which owns the casino, reviews whether it has been complying with tribal regulations. The Mille Lacs center, as well as the child-care center at the band’s Grand Casino Hinckley, could remain closed 14 days, or until Feb. 12, said Tadd Johnson, special counsel in the band’s government affairs department.

In the Jan. 23 incident, the victim’s parent was paged after a worker at the facility saw the toddler had been physically assaulted, said Rjay Brunkow, attorney for the Mille Lacs band. The next day, the boy’s parent noticed more bruising and took the boy to the doctor, who “concluded that a sexual assault may have happened,” Brunkow said.

Mille Lacs tribal police are in the early stages of the investigation, Brunkow said, but have identified a “suspect or a person of interest” — a boy between 8 and 10 years old.

“We do not believe a worker or an employee was involved,” he added.

Richard Ruohonen, a Minneapolis attorney representing the alleged victim’s family, asserted that no one at the care center called police to report the incident. He said they told the mother they didn’t know what had happened.

Ruohonen said the alleged victim’s mother and grandmother were paged two or three hours after they’d dropped him off at the center, and found him with bruises and scratches on his face and head, along with a dried-up bloody nose. They did not know when the assault occurred.

The doctor who examined the 3-year-old called police the next day, Ruohonen said.

The boy had been at the center on other occasions before the incident, but he and the alleged assailant didn’t know each other, Ruohonen said.

Kids Quest is run by New Horizon, a Plymouth-based chain of child-care centers at businesses and other locations that includes the Kinderberry Hill centers. Kids Quest is the nation’s largest system of hourly child-care centers, including centers in 22 casinos in 11 states, caring for children 6 months to 12 years of age. There are four in Minnesota.

In an e-mail Wednesday, Kids Quest spokeswoman Beth LaBreche wrote that Kids Quest is “aggressively and proactively” investigating the incident.

The state of Minnesota does not license or have any jurisdiction over tribal casino child-care centers, said a Department of Human Service spokesman. But the centers operate under regulations similar to the state’s, Johnson said. Brunkow said the incident may have happened inside a crawling tube that is part of the playground equipment in the facility, which would have concealed it from workers.

Authorities hope to have a report with more answers by Friday.

“We’re going to continue to investigate very aggressively. I’ve instructed our police chief that this is top priority,” Brunkow said. “We need a quick resolution of this case and an accurate resolution.”

It is unknown what type of repercussions the older child could face.

“With kids these ages … that’s not an age where they’re old enough to even have formed criminal intent,” Brunkow said, adding it may be “more of a family services matter.”

Staff writer Courtney Blanchard contributed to this report. plouwagie@startribune.com • 612-673-7102 mcaul@startribune.com • 612-673-7646

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