Beleaguered Jessica Tata, the young woman who owned a daycare centre where a fatal fire killed four children has been charged for manslaughter and is preparing to appear in court.
Her court appearance documentation commenced immediately after she was brought back to the U.S. from Nigeria, where she had fled just after the tragedy.
Jessica had been arrested on Saturday in Port Harcourt in Nigeria and was immediately locked up in jail on Tuesday in Houston, Texas, just on arrival wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Tata allegedly went shopping and left all seven children alone near a stove-top burner that was left on and ignited the blaze that killed four and injured the other three.
It was claimed that the U.S. Marshals Service worked with international police agency Interpol, the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security and other authorities to track her down.
Tata’s high graded offence had made the security authority to place among the list of the 15 most wanted fugitives and it had offered a reward of up to $25,000. The agency is now looking at a number of claims submitted for this money.
She was taken into custody on Saturday in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, arrived in the U.S. on Monday and was locked up in Atlanta, Georgia, before returning to Texas on Tuesday.
Tata has been charged with manslaughter, injury to a child and child abandonment, with the manslaughter charge carrying a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
The fire at Jackie’s Child Care began when Tata was spotted on a surveillance camera shopping at a Target store close to her home last month, an affidavit said.
The video shows Tata entering the store at 1:09pm and driving away at 1:24pm. The first 911 call about the fire was made at 1:29pm, it said.
She told neighbours immediately after the fire that it started in the kitchen while she was in the bathroom, investigators said.
But Tata allegedly left the tots – aged between 16 months and three years – without adult supervision, while a pot of oil was left to burn on an electric stove.
Neighbours told investigators she arrived at the centre and they heard her screaming seconds after she went in the front door and saw smoke coming from inside.
The fire killed three-year-old Shomari Dickerson, 20-month-old Kendyll Stradford, 19-month-old Elizabeth Kajoh and 16-month-old Elias Castillo.
The U.S. Marshals Service says the 22-year-old day care operator arrived in the United States from Nigeria before dawn Monday.
Tata was taken into custody in Atlanta, then waived extradition to Texas.
Tata surrendered Saturday to U.S. officials in Nigeria, where authorities believe she had fled two days after the Feb. 24 fire, which also injured three children. Investigators believe Tata left all seven children alone before a stove-top burner ignited the blaze.
She is in Harris County jail after arriving at Hooks Airport before 1 a.m. Tuesday.
Tata was scheduled to appear before a judge at 4 a.m. Tuesday for a probable cause hearing, but will instead be before a judge for the first time during her first court appearance. She was placed on a flight from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta before 11 p.m. last Monday.
After arriving from Atlanta at Hooks Airport, Tata was taken to the Harris County processing center where she was booked. She is in the county jail with no bond.
“First of all, I’d like to say the Houston Fire Dept is appreciative of the efforts of the U.S. Marshal’s office and the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders task force.
They have proven indeed that the arms of the law are long. We live in a free country. There are laws that we have to follow when we arrest people.
Ms. Tata took advantage of that freedom. We are glad that the U.S. Marshal’s office was able to assist us in getting her back,” said Houston Fire Department spokesman Pat Trahan during an early morning news conference at Hooks Airport.
“Ms. Tata will be processed here. She will be housed in a single cell and that is for her safety and her protection. She will be accompanied at all times as she makes movements throughout the jail and again that is for her safety and her protection.
She is being booked as we speak and she will go through the process as all other inmates do, which is go through a medical screening as well as a psychiatric evaluation and then she will be placed again in housing in a single cell,” said Christina Garza, spokeswoman with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
“The safety of any high-profile inmate is always a concern for us and that’s why she will be placed in a single cell and escorted at all times.”
The US Marshals Service removed Tata from custody in the Fulton County jail in Atlanta, Ga. around 10 p.m. Monday to return her to Houston, a law enforcement official said.
Tata was placed into custody Monday morning at the Fulton County jail. She waived extradition before a county judge .
She was arrested on March 19 in Nigeria. Family members said she turned herself in to US authorities in that country.