Merced man arrested for possession of child pornography, lives at in-home child care facility

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- A tip about someone downloading child pornography led Merced police to a home on Citadel Avenue near Bodie Thursday.

Officers served a search warrant and found devices with child pornography on them along with a loaded firearm.

Investigators quickly realized the home was a licensed in-home daycare facility.

"Detectives found the firearm, with ammunition, easily accessible to the small children in the residence," said Merced Police Department Lt. Joseph Ortega.

Joel Damien Ortega, 32, was placed under arrest for possession of child pornography, child endangerment and possession of an unregistered firearm.

Authorities said during questioning, Ortega admitted to downloading and distributing child pornography.

Officials said Ortega does not work at the daycare facility but does live at the residence.

About 11 children between the ages of 2 and 7 were at the home as officers served the search warrant.

"Detectives had to work diligently to contact the parents of all the minor children who were at that daycare facility to come pick up their children," said Lt. Perez.

Investigators say they're still analyzing the devices to see if any other crimes occurred and will be scheduling follow-up interviews in the coming days.

"You know, we have to do our due diligence to make sure that nothing happened to these children," Lt. Perez said.

Toys were sitting outside of the daycare facility Thursday evening.

As Action News was in the area, crews saw people enter the home, but when we knocked, there was no answer.

According to the California Department of Social Services website, the Manuel and Dominica Ayala Family Child Care in-home facility has been licensed since 2016.

A complaint investigation shows on August 31, 2017, the facility was cited after the licensee "acknowledged that his adult son, Damien Ortega, and his girlfriend, have been living with them since August 2, 2017."

However, a criminal record clearance had not been completed for either one.

The facility was issued a Type A violation, defined by the state as something that "poses an immediate Health and Safety risk to children in care."

The facility was ordered to have Ortega and his girlfriend fingerprinted within five days.

Ortega remained in custody on a $100,000 bond Thursday evening.

Action News reached out to the California Department of Social Services, which said the following: "The Department is working closely with law enforcement and is conducting an investigation. We cannot provide details about ongoing investigations, but I encourage you to reach out to us down the road. I'll be happy to share any additional details that are available."
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