JOHNSTON, Iowa -- Police say after a month-long investigation of interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence and informal conversations with the state medical examiner's office, they have enough evidence to believe that Trina Mazza was not providing the amount of care needed for an 18-month-old child who died after being found unresponsive at her unlicensed Johnston daycare.
She is now charged with child endangerment causing death, but the Johnston Police Department is not saying what kind of care was allegedly lacking.
“It's not that we want to withhold information because we want to keep it secret, it's that we want to make sure that the trial process is pristine. If we go this route and end up in a jury that we get a good jury, that we get witnesses that don’t know what other witnesses said. We want to make sure that process is as pristine as possible,” said Johnston Police Lt. Tyler Tompkins.
The unlicensed daycare meant DHS did not have oversight or could make inspections. The caveat is that unlicensed daycares are supposed to have no more than five children in their care. DHS received complaints in 2011 and 2017 that Mazza's daycare was overcrowded. They sent letters on both occasions alerting Mazza that doing so was a simple misdemeanor. They forwarded the complaints to the Polk County Attorney's Office which does have jurisdiction. The Polk County Attorney's Office declined to comment on whether or not they had filed charges in 2011 or 2017 citing the current criminal case.
Police say before putting children in an unlicensed facility, it is good to be cautious.
“We encourage them to do their research, do their due diligence on that daycare. If the need to, go talk to neighbors, really find out what that daycare's all about and how many kids they have there. Ask them questions. I know it's hard to find daycare, parents tell us that all the time when we do cases involving daycare, but it's important that they make sure on the onset that they're not putting the child potential in a bad situation,” said Tompkins.
Neighbors we spoke with say they never saw kids playing outside the Mazza's home but did say they would occasionally see Mazza outside by herself.
The DHS says there are about 3,000 childcare facilities in the state where they have oversight abilities. A database can be found on their website.