BRADENTON, Fla. — A faith-based day care in Bradenton is fighting back claiming the Manatee County Sheriff's Office botched an investigation that resulted in a wrongful closure.
Last July, a complaint to the Department of Children and Families placed No Limits Learning Academy under a state and county investigation.
Despite DCF clearing the day care, operated by The Church Without Limits, of any wrongdoing, the sheriff's office shut the facility down.
"It was devastating, parents were crying, it was mayhem, total chaos," said JoAnna Erickson, senior pastor at The Church Without Limits.
Erickson and her husband are suing the Manatee County Sheriff's Office for wrongful closure and public defamation.
According to the lawsuit, Child Protective Services deputy, Lisa Montero, misused a state form to enforce the 2017 closure. DCF has confirmed, the Academy could have remained open during the investigation.
"Tried, convicted, and sentenced to death without so much as being asked one question," said fellow senior pastor, Steve Erickson. "And in the United States of America, and especially being former law enforcement, that really hurts."
The day care now operates under a new name, Salt Life Kids Academy, with a dramatically lower enrollment.
The facility was caring for 117 students at the time of the July closure. One year later, that number has dropped to fewer than 10.
Church leadership says backlash from the closure has also impacted donations collected for child sex trafficking victims. They've seen about a 30% decline in donations.
"I feel like we did everything we could possibly do to recover, but there was so much damage," said JoAnna Erickson.
The couple is seeking up to $300,000 from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, stating in the lawsuit, "the Academy was essentially killed by the wrongful closure."
A spokesperson with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office tells ABC Action News, they have no comment at this time.