HELENA — A Montana daycare owner was punched and hit in the face with a shovel after refusing to hand three young siblings to their father, who was drunk and lacks legal custody, authorities said.
Martha McClure had surgery for her injuries Monday and is still struggling with double vision, according to her sister-in-law, Marlene Heath.
Lake County officials say McClure was caring for Francis Joseph Jackson’s three children, all under the age of 4, when he showed up at her Ronan daycare center with an unidentified woman last week.
McClure knew Salish and Kootenai Tribal Child Protective Services had suspended Jackson’s parental rights and he was not allowed to have contact with them.
Deputy county attorney James Lapotka wrote in an affidavit that Jackson, 31, “has been in an ongoing CPS case for the past three years” and was served court papers saying the agency had legal custody of his children.
McClure reported she could smell alcohol on Jackson, that he was angry she wouldn’t let him pick up his children, and that he threatened to assault her in front of the kids at Martha’s Mini Daycare, court records said.
She was able to physically remove Jackson from the daycare center and lock the door. But she said he began throwing toys, including a tricycle, at the window in an apparent attempt to get back inside, court records said.
McClure went outside, where she and Jackson fought until a woman hit McClure in the face with a snow shovel. Jackson then hit McClure in the face, knocking her down, court records said. The suspects fled without the children.
“I protect these children as if they’re my own because when they hit the door in the morning at 6:30 they are mine until their mothers come for them,” McClure told Missoula TV station KTMF-TV on Tuesday. “I’m responsible for their lives, their safety.”
Jackson was arrested Monday in Usk, Washington, on the Kalispel Indian Reservation. He faces aggravated burglary charges in the Oct. 7 incident.
He waived extradition Tuesday during a court hearing in Pend Oreille County. His bond was set at $100,000, and he was expected to be returned to Montana later this week, a jail officer said.
Charges are pending against the woman accused of hitting McClure in the face with a shovel. She has not been arrested, and her name has not been released.
Meanwhile, Heath says McClure is recovering from surgery for an eye injury. A photo on a gofundme.com page set up by McClure’s stepdaughter shows the daycare owner with two black eyes and other facial injuries.
“She’s still in high spirits, positive and trying to get better so she can get back to her (daycare) kids,” Heath said.
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