I am home sick today; but still got three calls about the story below. While I can’t write much between my naps on my road to health, I felt I had to write something. My callers all used the word “shocked” in each of their conversations.
The only reason this story saw the light of day, is because some stranger found a lost cell phone and turned in to the police. There was no state oversight, no eager reporters, no nosey parents, and no outraged staff.
I’m not shocked; I am not even surprised. I am sickened. This is just the kind of thing that happens when people are locked up and dehumanized. This is exactly what the parents at Howe Developmental Center fear for their children and don’t realize that the more “institutionalized” the setting, the more dehumanized are its prisoners.
For those who live outside Illinois, Howe Developmental Center is at the forefront of the struggle to shut down Illinois state-funded institutions for people with developmental disabilities. Over 30 suspicious deaths have occurred at Howe in the last few years.
Shocked… sadly no.
Here is the article from the Dallas Morning News
Corpus Christi State School investigated after 'fight club' videos of residents found
12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, March 11, 2009
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News
email@example.com / The Dallas Morning News
Robert T. Garrett contributed to this report.
AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry suspended admissions to the Corpus Christi State School on Tuesday after police allegations that profoundly disabled residents had been forced into "fight club"-style battles by the employees hired to care for them.
Authorities say vivid cellphone videos show Corpus Christi State School staffers goading young mentally disabled male residents into physical altercations.
Authorities say vivid video footage captured on cellphone cameras shows staffers goading young mentally disabled male residents of the institution into physical altercations, then shoving them at each other until fights ensued.
The investigation into the 11 current or former state school employees identified in the videos is continuing, and police say it's not clear whether they were betting on the outcome of fights or uploading them to the Internet. While the video indicates some residents were hurt in the fights, none sustained serious injuries. Officials would not say how many residents were involved.
"Workers were staging fight clubs with the residents for their own entertainment. It's awful abuse – some of the worst I've seen in over 30 years," Corpus Christi police Capt. Tim Wilson said. "I've heard of isolated incidents before, but what's most appalling is that it's obvious this is organized."
Arrests could come later this week, the local prosecutor said.
State school overhaul
At the governor's direction, officials with the Department of Aging and Disability Services halted new admissions to the Corpus Christi State School on Tuesday and ordered that video cameras quickly be installed at all 13 institutions for the mentally disabled. They also ordered more security officers and overnight supervisors for the facilities, as well as staff to monitor the cameras.
The revelation of the videos, first reported by The Dallas Morning News, comes as lawmakers are debating how to overhaul the state schools for the disabled, which the U.S. Department of Justice accused of systemic abuse and widespread civil rights violations late last year.
On Monday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill to protect state school residents from mistreatment – a measure deemed an emergency by Perry. His chief of staff, Jay Kimbrough, who traveled to Corpus Christi on Tuesday evening, said he planned to stay until safeguards were in place.
"This is exactly why we wanted this to be an emergency priority," Kimbrough said. "There are things we can do immediately. We need to implement as much of this as quickly as possible."
Administrators at the Corpus Christi State School did not return phone calls.
The brawls are captured on repeated videos filmed during 2007 and 2008, along with one that appears to have been taken last month, authorities said. Wilson said they show "staged events" where residents push, kick and punch each other, then have their arms raised in victory when they "win."
The videos, which also have sound, were discovered on a cellphone that was turned in to an off-duty police officer at a local hospital after being found lying in the road. The videos were so clear that investigators were able to determine that they were captured in public "day rooms" at the state school, which is home to 350 residents.
Democratic Rep. Abel Herrero, whose district includes the 100-acre Corpus Christi State School, said he was told that the fight clubs occurred during an overnight shift.
The Corpus Christi allegations are "disgraceful, unacceptable," said Rep. Patrick Rose, a Dripping Springs Democrat who has authored state-school safety legislation and a separate bill to close some of the institutions in favor of community living. "It provides further proof of the fact that we need greater oversight and accountability in our state school settings."
Wilson said police learned of the cellphone last week and opened a joint investigation with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's inspector general. He declined to say how many residents were involved.
Seven current state school employees in the videos have been put on emergency leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Four other employees identified in the videos no longer work for the state school.
So far, no arrests have been made. Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez said his office is taking the allegations very seriously, and expects police to seek arrest warrants late this week.
The state school safety bill, which still must be approved by the House, would appoint an independent ombudsman to oversee all abuse and neglect investigations in Texas' institutions for the disabled. It would require fingerprinting, background checks and random drug testing of all state school employees, and would install security cameras in all public areas of the facilities – something Kimbrough says might have prevented the Corpus Christi situation.
Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, called the state school case "unbelievable," and said lawmakers have been trying for years to bring attention to the state's dismal care for the disabled.
"We've been sounding the alarms," he said. "Unfortunately, it took a long time to get the leadership of Texas to focus on this issue."
Staff writer Robert T. Garrett contributed to this report.