Emotions were running high Wednesday morning as 46-year-old Valarie Rena Patterson appeared in court for the first time since being accused of causing the death of 5-year-old who attended the day care center where she worked in Mobile.
Patterson was arrested and charged with “abuse of a corpse” after voluntarily speaking with police investigating the death of Kamden Johnson, whose body was found in a driveway on Demetropolis road Aug. 21.On Wednesday morning, Mobile County District Attorney Ashley said Patterson’s charges had been upgraded to manslaughter. The disclosure gave the first indication of Johnson’s death being treated as a homicide, even though authorities haven’t disclosed what his cause of death is believed to have been.
A bond hearing for Patterson was delayed Wednesday morning, but despite the lack of legal action, the hearing became quite the scene when the defendant’s son, 24-year-old DeMarcus LeAndrew Lymon, crossed the bar separating the public gallery from the officers of the court to make contact with his mother.
Lymon was quickly tackled by several police officers who were in the courtroom at the time, including Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste. After things settled down, Battiste said Lymon claiming to be attempting to “hug” his mother as she was being escorted from the courtroom.
“He approached the area of the judge’s bench without permission and was somewhat aggressive. So, he had to be taken into custody,” Battiste said afterward. “It’s unfortunate because of the high emotions involved in this type of case. I don’t know what prompted him to act in that manner, but we were able to get him under control without harming him.”Asked if he believed Lymon was acting violent, Battiste said, “he was not violent from the perspective of throwing punches, but he approached an area that he should not have approached, and he was not compliant with us as we asked him to move back.”
Lymon was booked into the Mobile County Metro Jail on Wednesday, and will face a single charge of “interfering with judicial proceedings.”
The drama in the courtroom Wednesday was the latest twist in an emotional investigation that has garnered attention from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey due to its ties to the unlicensed day care center Johnson attended and where Patterson was employed.
As Lagniappe previously reported, police say Patterson was an employee of the Community Nursery and Preschool Academy on Hillcrest Road — a facility operated by Community Church Ministries, Inc.
According to the Alabama Department of Human Resources, Community Nursery and Preschool Academy is not licensed by the state due to an Alabama law that allows “religious exemptions” for day care centers tied to a faith group.
In recent years, momentum has been growing to change that law. Legislators nearly passed a bill that would have ended religious exemptions earlier this year, though it ultimately failed.
However, while speaking at the Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA) convention in Orange Beach this morning, Ivey told reporters she believes if anyone operates a childcare center in Alabama, they “need to be licensed by the state.”
Those in the area of Community Nursery and Preschool Academy on Tuesday said many parents had come either to remove their children from the care of the business, while others were seeking answers from the owners.
One of the biggest concerns for some has been Patterson’s criminal history, which does not appear to have precluded her from working at the day care center. According to court and jail records, Patterson has 12 prior arrests in Mobile County and Florida including multiple charges for theft, writing bad checks and at least one charge for “negligent driving with kids in the car.”
Community Church Ministries, which state records indicate is owned by Pastor Carl Coker and his wife, Angela Coker, released a statement on Facebook regarding the incident Tuesday afternoon. However, the post never mentioned Johnson or his family, and more than anything appeared to be a defense of the businesses’ reputation.
“For years we have won your hearts, spreading love to your kids throughout Mobile. Before yesterday, we were on everyone lips as one of the top centers in Mobile,” the statement read. “We are still people of character, people of integrity and people of [an] abundance of love. Through all of this, God will prevail. He will get the glory.”
The statement said the community should be “praying for all those involved,” adding that “both victims and the alleged accusers are a part of us.” It also asked people to “stop spreading your assumptions and putting the spirit of fear and anger in innocent people.”
That post has since been deleted, though the Cokers did appear to be more conciliatory during an interview with NBC 15’s Muriel Bailey Tuesday. They told the station they’d been “devastated” by the incident, but insisted that whatever happened to Kamden Johnson didn’t occur at their day care center.