Two of the three suspects involved in the death of a 1-year-old boy at a Bronx day care center pleaded not guilty to murder charges on Thursday. Grei Mendez, the operator of the day care center, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito entered their pleas in a Bronx courtroom. The charges stem from a case that prosecutors described as shocking to the conscience of New York City. The incident also resulted in three other children falling ill due to exposure to fentanyl, which was found at the day care center.
Mendez, Brito, and Mendez’s husband, Felix Herrera Garcia, were indicted on Thursday and charged with murder with depraved indifference to human life in connection with the death of 22-month-old Nicholas Dominici. The New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Dominici died from fentanyl exposure at the Bronx day care center, which prosecutors allege was a front for drug trafficking.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark expressed her outrage and sorrow during a news conference, stating that the children were used as shields to protect a narcotics operation. Mendez, Garcia, and Brito have been charged with second-degree murder, criminal possession of a controlled substance, manslaughter, assault, and child endangerment. Garcia is expected to be arraigned later on Thursday.
During the court hearing, Nicholas Dominici’s mother broke down in tears, while his father, Otoniel Feliz, gave an emotional statement at a news conference. Feliz expressed his trust in the day care center and his disbelief that such a tragedy could occur. Clark vowed to take action against day care centers operating out of private homes like the one Mendez ran.
Investigators discovered an unopened package of Narcan, a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses, in a medicine cabinet at the day care center. They also found a hidden compartment beneath the floor containing drugs and a trap door concealed beneath a play mat. Garcia, who allegedly fled the day care center on the day of Nicholas’s death, was captured after a weeklong manhunt and is currently in custody on state murder charges.
All three defendants, Mendez, Garcia, and Brito, are also facing federal charges related to narcotics possession and distribution resulting in death. Another individual, Renny Antonio Parra Paredes, was arrested in connection with the fentanyl exposure incident and is facing federal charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
The suspects are accused of storing a kilo of fentanyl in a closet at the day care center, along with six kilos of fentanyl-laced heroin and other controlled substances hidden beneath a trap door. Mendez is also accused of deleting text messages exchanged between her and her husband prior to Nicholas Dominici’s death.
The case has raised concerns about the safety of day care centers operating out of private homes, prompting Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark to emphasize the need to remove drug traffickers from the community and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
All four suspects are scheduled to appear in federal court on October 12.