10 06 2008

Police investigate alleged beating by OD Heck workers 
 
by Jordan Carleo-Evangelist and Brendan J. Lyons

June 9, 2008

timesunion.com

http://timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=694808&category=&BCCode=HOME&newsdate=6/9/2008

Mechanicville — Four employees of the O.D. Heck Developmental Center have been put on paid leave as police investigate allegations one of them abused a developmentally disabled person who had spilled the aide’s food, according to a source briefed on the case.

A state investigator briefed on the incident said two people saw an employee allegedly beat up one of the OMRDD clients after the client spilled the employee’s food at an eatery in the city. The employees did not intervene, the investigator said.

Nicole Weinstein, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, confirmed that four direct care workers have been put on leave.

But Weinstein declined to discuss the substance of the allegations, aside from saying they stem from a sanctioned group outing in a van on Thursday and that the incident occurred at a Mechanicville McDonald’s restaurant.

She said OMRDD, the agency that runs O.D. Heck, has suspended its investigation of the incident pending the conclusion of a probe by city police.

“The Mechanicville police have made it a police matter,” Weinstein said, adding that her understanding was that no one required hospital treatment as a result.

City police Chief Joseph Waldron said the investigation is “in its infancy” and declined to comment aside from saying that his investigators had been in contact with the state.

“I can just confirm that we are conducting an investigation,” Waldron said of what he later called “possible abuse.”

Weinstein declined to identify the employees allegedly involved. It was not immediately clear how many O.D. Heck clients were on the trip. Weinstein said they were adults.

“First and foremost, our jobs are to protect the individuals in our care,” Weinstein said, adding that the agency investigates all complaints.

The level of care and oversight at O.D. Heck, which is on Balltown Road in Niskayuna, and OMRDD was thrust into the spotlight after the February 2007 death of Jonathan Carey, a 13-year-old autistic boy who was smothered to death in the care of two O.D. Heck health aides while on an outing to Crossgates Mall. The workers then waited until after they ran errands to seek help.

One of the men, Nadeem Mall, pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and was sentenced to six months in the Albany County jail. The other, Edwin Tirado, was convicted at trial of manslaughter and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Jonathan’s parents, Michael and Lisa Carey, used their son’s death to advocate for the passage of “Jonathan’s Law,” which allows parents and guardians of people living in facilities for the disabled to get reports of abuse allegations.

Late last month, a report by the state Commission on Quality of Care obtained by the Careys under the new law revealed that O.D. Heck employees waited 26 minutes after Mall and Tirado returned to the facility, even though the boy was not breathing, before calling 911.

Michael Carey was critical of the commission for laying the blame wholly with Mall and Tirado and exonerating O.D. Heck and OMRDD.

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com.  

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