13-year-old Jonathan Carey was killed in 2007 when a state care worker, Edwin Tirado, restrained him in a minivan. Nadeem Mall, the van’s driver, continued driving the van even though Jonathan stopped breathing. Mall and Tirado then spent an hour “doing errands, shopping and buying beverages” without checking on Jonathan or seeking medical attention.
Tirado was convicted of manslaughter and Mall has pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide. Jonathan’s parents, Michael and Lisa Carey brought two civil suits against the State of New York, which has agreed to pay $5 million in one of the larger wrongful-death settlements in the state’s history.
An investigation revealed that abuse and injury were “rampant” at the Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center, near Albany, where Jonathan lived. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has sought to overhaul the state’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, which runs more than 1,000 group homes and facilities. A series of articles by the New York Times has revealed numerous lapses at many levels in the care of individuals with disabilities, from physical abuse of individuals by staff to Medicaid fraud to a failure to restrain overtime:
Mr. Tirado had once worked 84 days in a row, and a co-worker told an investigator that Mr. Tirado was so exhausted a week before Jonathan’s death that she told someone at the time, “Either he’s going to kill someone or himself.”
A state psychologist also told the police that for Mr. Tirado, overtime “was like a badge of honor.” The psychologist added: “I asked Edwin when he slept. He said he didn’t.”
David Slingerland, the state official who oversaw O. D. Heck as well as a number of state-run group homes at the time of Jonathan’s death, acknowledged in a deposition earlier this year that the amount of overtime Mr. Tirado had worked was a cause of Jonathan’s death.
Tirado had dropped out of school in ninth grade, had a criminal conviction for selling marijuana and had been working at O.D. Heck when at least one previous report of abuse involving Jonathan occurred. Mall had been fired by at least four private agencies for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Jonathan’s tragic death exposed the woefully inadequate care that too many children and individuals with disabilities receive. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Staff can be trained to work with individuals even with severe behavior issues. Systems can be put in place to make sure that abuses are reported and addressed immediately.
Will the Cuomo administration — will other state and federal authorities — prioritize protecting the rights and lives of individuals with disabilities so that they and their families do not have to suffer what Jonathan and his parents have?
Photo from the Jonathan Carey Foundation