Caught on tape: Abuse and neglect of the disabled at state-run facilities

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by Jeremy Rogalski / KHOU 11 News I-Team

khou.com

Posted on November 14, 2013 at 11:32 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 15 at 2:28 PM

HOUSTON – Like all mothers, all Mary Collins wanted to do was to protect her son, Timmy.

“It still hurts, it still hurts,” Collins said. “How can somebody take advantage and hurt somebody that is that innocent.”

Timmy, 33, is autistic and functions like a 5-year-old. Requiring round-the clock-care, Collins placed him at the State of Texas Supported Living Center in Brenham.

And that’s where something very cruel took place, while Timmy was acting up one day on a bathroom floor.

“It’s appalling,” Collins said. “The staff member took the bathroom door and slammed the door on Timmy’s head."

It left a bloody, inch-long gash to his right ear.

“It shouldn’t happen, there’s no reason this should happen,” Collins said.

But it happens despite that the fact that the state began installing hundreds of security cameras in 2009.

One piece of video, which was used as evidence in a Washington County criminal trial, shows state employee Ronald Crow punch a resident with a closed fist without provocation. Worse yet, after spotting the so-called eye in the sky, Crow gives the resident a hug as if nothing ever happened.

“It’s very angering, it’s frustrating, it’s sad,” said Haley Tuner with the non-profit advocacy group Disability Rights Texas.

“It doesn’t add up, people are blatantly abusing and neglecting people knowing that they are being filmed,” Turner said.

The I-Team found it’s widespread. Across the 13 state-supported living centers, there were nearly 500 cases of abuse and neglect in the last fiscal year alone. Examples include slapping, hitting, punching and choking residents.

Four years ago it was even worse. The U.S. Justice Department stepped in and investigated. The result was a major fix-it plan and a settlement agreement which the state of Texas signed off on.

But the progress since then?

“We are four years later, but we’re not getting there,” said Beth Mitchell with Disability Rights Texas.

Mitchell said the state of Texas hasn’t even corrected half of the things it said it would.

Mitchell: “They’re at approximately 20 to 25 percent compliance.”

I-Team: “They should be at 100 percent.”

Mitchell: “They should be at 100 percent.”

I-Team: “They had the time to fix the mess.”

Mitchell: “They did.”

I-Team: “Has the mess been fixed?”

Mitchell: “No.”

But when you ask the state you get a different spin. The I-Team sat down with Cecelia Cavuto of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, or DADS.

I-Team: “Four years later, and you’re not even half way there?”

Cavuto: “This was going to be a lengthy process that was going to take years and years and we’re making those improvements.”

Cavuto maintained the state is on the right path. So what about the continued abuse?

I-Team: “We’re talking kicking and beatings and dragging, how could this be acceptable?”

Cavuto: “It’s not. It is absolutely not acceptable.”

I-Team: “Then why does it keep going on if you have the eye in the sky everywhere?”

Cavuto: “You know, I can’t answer that.”

Instead, Cavuto wanted us to focus on the positive. She gave us a tour of the Richmond facility, where residents can ride horses, get a custom made wheelchair, and earn a paycheck doing menial jobs.

“There are good things happening every day,” Cavuto said.

But tell that to Collins, who said the best thing was yanking Timmy out of state care.

“We trust these people, we put our children, our offspring, part of us in their hands, and I just don’t understand how they could do that,” Collins said.

The assault on Collins’ son Timmy also was captured on surveillance video, but the state of Texas wouldn’t let the I-Team view it or the many other abuse dozens of other abuse cases caught on tape. Why? The state said it was a privacy matter.

So we requested to have residents’ faces digitally blurred, but the state said it could not do that either.

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