JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Violating a Florida law didn't stop this mother from investing in a nanny cam when she noticed changes in her son's behavior after months of being watched by their nanny.
Florida is a two-party consent state which means that both parties, the one recording and the one being recorded, must consent for any video or audio recording to happen. But this local mother had a hunch she could not ignore.
She hid the camera in her child’s lunch box as she dropped her kids' off at the nanny's house.
Neither of the child's parents wanted to be identified on camera but wanted to go by their first names, Aida and E.J. Their son, Aiden, is the youngest of three.
Aida tells First Coast News she had to try out the camera multiple times until the lunch box was set at an angle that worked. Had the lunch box been in any other position, she would not have caught on video an incident that prompted her to call police.
"Just crying and crying and crying all she did was sit there next to him for minutes after minutes after minutes," said Aida.
"If something happens to my son, it’s their word against mine, he doesn’t know crap he’s two years old," said E.J.
They say they started noticing emotional and physical changes in Aiden like loss of appetite and lack of sleep, more frequent crying, prolonged fever and staring longer at the T.V.
"He’s scared and I’m scared to leave him by himself, like, who is going to protect you? I have to work buddy," said E.J. "I couldn’t, I couldn’t protect my son."
So Aida took things into her own hands, buying two nanny cams online to keep an extra eye on her son at their nanny's house without her knowing.
In the video, according to Aida and E.J.'s account and the police report, you can see the nanny turn around, pick up their son off the ground as he was screaming and crying, shake him back and forth, and then set him back down. He continues to cry.
The video was enough for police to arrest their nanny, 30-year-old Sheenalyn Burgess, the next day on a charge of child abuse. She posted bond shortly afterward and got out of jail.
"Without that nanny camera we would not know what’s going on," said Aida.
Dr. Randall Alexander, the Division Chief of Child Protection and Forensic Pediatrics in Jacksonville, says that camera could have made all the difference.
"The issue then is about legal admissibility, but as a parent, I don’t think legal admissibility is my concern, my concern is my child."
He says shaking a baby is a serious and often deadly problem. He warns of the damage it can do to a young, developing brain.
"It probably takes two or three seconds, but in two or three seconds you can do 6, 7, 8 shakes back and forth, so in almost no time you can cause damage."
First Coast News asked him what parents should look for if they have their suspicions.
"Let’s say we have a situation where someone is concerned about a concussion, concussion symptoms are that you may not eat as much, you might stare more, you might have some kind of behavior change, disrupted feeding patterns and sleeping patterns."
The symptoms he describes sound similar to those of Aiden’s, according to his parents.
"If it’s a medical issue, I would get a medical second opinion, I love DCF and the state attorney’s office, but they are not medical," said Randall.
Aida and E.J. have been collecting all of their medical paperwork, as they insist doctors didn’t pick up on Aiden’s symptoms soon enough and they still feel like DCF and the State Attorney’s Office hasn’t done enough to help them when they expressed their concerns. They say the communication has been lacking and there seems to be a major disconnect between agencies.
Furthermore, they're upset their nanny was able to bail out of jail so quickly.
They say she had another additional, older child at the home the day the incident was caught on video. They say she never asked if it was okay if she watched another child in addition to their own children.
Subsequently, Aida says they caught video of that other child hurting their son's arm.
"So, any babysitter can shake a baby then get on probation. You think that’s fair?" asked E.J. They're concerned it could happen to another child.
Meanwhile, they are still figuring out medical costs.
DCF tells First Coast News they can’t comment on the case, but says in part:
The first priority of the Florida Department of Children and Families is child safety. We thoroughly investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, and we carefully review all evidence that we find. We work closely with law enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office, keeping them informed of major developments.
The State Attorney’s Office couldn't elaborate either, but says:
We continue to have ongoing conversations with the victim’s parents about this case, which is still active. The next court date is scheduled for late May.
Since sharing their story with First Coast News Aida and E.J. say DCF and the State Attorney’s Office have reached back out to offer more help and communication.
They’re working on pairing the family with a victim advocate.
"The good thing about it is, we caught it before he was gone," said Aida.
Dr. Randall recommends finding a licensed daycare with a video system or, if you find a personal nanny you want to stick with, he says make it known that you want a camera system so you can check in on your child throughout the day.
Lastly, he says, if you aren’t satisfied with a doctor’s evaluation of your child, get a couple other opinions so that nothing is missed and make sure to keep all of your documents and records.