We Should Protest Unsafe Hiring Practices in California’s Developmental Centers

No wonder abuse is rampant in the Developmental Centers operated by the State of California. As has been in the news recently, hundreds of cases of abuse, including murder of the residents, have gone without much of a ripple, including not much of a law enforcement response.

Reports indicate that the most recent murder involved Van Ingraham, a 29 year old man with Autism whose mangled body was “found” by staff. Staff did not report what they saw to the police, licensing or the Department of Developmental Services (DDS). They reported to their supervisors.

Apparently, the supervisors reported, again, not to the local law enforcement officials but to their internal security officials. These are individuals who have no law enforcement training, no investigative training, and are simply assigned to this duty. Thus, in the case of Van Ingraham, his murder–called a “suspicious death” by DDS–was reported five days after he died.

It is well known that for any crime, time is of the essence in beginning an investigation. After five days it is likely that evidence could have disappeared, degraded or something. Records by that time could have been altered or removed. Any video tape that may have existed and helped identify the perpetrator(s) could have been discarded, destroyed or altered.

A state legislative panel looked into the Ingraham case, and the larger issue of negligent or nonexistent investigations by agency investigators after patient advocates expressed outrage over a longstanding pattern of malfeasance.

A news story said: “After nearly a decade of scathing audits and complaints about the internal police department, lawmakers at the hearing were demanding action. The state promised to implement reforms within the next three months.”

A news article published in November shows that the Department of Developmental Services is not the only state agency that needs major reform in handling cases of abuse of people with developmental disabilities.  The article appeared in our newsfeed having been published on November 14, 2011. In part, the article revealed that the State Personnel Board reinstated two individuals with confirmed crimes against vulnerable adults.

The article stated:

“When thousands of dollars belonging to elderly residents of a veterans home went missing, police set out to catch the thief. A video camera they hid showed nurse’s aide Linda Riccitelli creeping into a 93-year-old man’s room and sticking her hand in a dresser drawer stashed with bait money. Investigators confirmed the cash was gone and the video showed that no one else had opened the drawer.

“Prosecutors charged Riccitelli with burglary, and the Department of Veterans Affairs fired her. To most, it seemed like an open-and-shut case. But a little-known state agency that rules on employee discipline saw things differently. It ordered Riccitelli re-hired, with three years’ back pay because, they said, the evidence was “circumstantial.”

It added:

“The board also ordered psychiatric technician Gregory Powell back to work at the Sonoma Developmental Center after he had been fired for hitting a profoundly disturbed patient so hard with a shoe that police found welts matching the pattern of the sole three hours later.

 “After the patient refused Powell’s repeated order to put his shoes on, a psychologist said she saw Powell smacking the patient with a shoe as he cowered on a couch. Powell said the seated patient had attacked him. He denied hitting the man with the shoe. More than three years later, in October 2009, the board sided with Powell, discounting the police report and arguing the psychologist had been new at the time and wasn’t familiar with the patient’s ‘aggressive proclivities.’

“The Department of Developmental Services filed unsuccessful appeals that kept him away from the facility until August of this year, Powell said in an interview Tuesday.

“Then, in late September, another co-worker accused him of neglect for leaving a medication cart unlocked and a patient without her oxygen, Powell said. Investigators found no wrongdoing, Powell said, but he has decided to resign and take a job in the state prison system instead.”

It is unbelievable that the State Personnel Board sides with criminals rather than protecting the well-being and safety of vulnerable adults. I have written to them about this, but have received no reply. I think I will send my letter again. And again.

I want two things. I want to have these two decisions reversed, and these criminal State employees barred from further work with vulnerable adults. Second, I would like some kind of policy for the Board that would ensure that similar decisions are not made in the future.

I also want the State Personnel Board to revise their tendency to ascribe violent behavior to individuals with disabilities but not to known violent staff members! Reread the sentence above, “Powell said the seated patient had attacked him. He denied hitting the man with the shoe. More than three years later, in October 2009, the board sided with Powell, discounting the police report and arguing the psychologist had been new at the time and wasn’t familiar with the patient’s “aggressive proclivities.” SO, THE PATIENT HAS AGGRESSIVE TENDENCIES….SO DID THE STAFF, WHO WAS ENGAGING IN THOSE TENDENCIES, NOT THE PATIENT. PAY ATTENTION! Also the Board used the excuse that the psychologist was new, to demean his/her assessment of the violence of the staff member.

It is unbelievable that the State Personnel Board advocates for criminals against the well-being and safety of vulnerable adults.

Please join me in writing a letter of protest to the State Personnel Board, for siding with and supporting known criminal offenders to get their jobs back and victimize vulnerable children, adults and elders. Make sure you mention that you heard about this either through your own news source or through the Disability and Abuse Project. Let us know if you hear back from Ms. Ambrose.

Address your letters to:
State Personnel Board
801 Capitol Mall
Sacramento, CA 95814
ATTN: Suzanne Ambrose. Executive Officer

Returning from Huntsville’s 28th National Symposium on Child Abuse

Today is Thursday, March 22, 2012, the last day of the 3-day conference. As usual, it was packed to the brim with excellent speakers, exhibits, participants, and an atmosphere of professional respect.

Lori Brown and I co-presented two 3-hour seminars: The first on Forensic Interviewing of children with disabilities and the second the First Responder’s Skills when arriving on the scene to a child abuse call. Both sessions went very well, but I felt we had much more material to present than time to do it in!

Yet, we were able to engage in some very important discussions at both presentations, show Lori’s DVD’s of forensic interviews she has recently completed (with the proper confidentiality agreements signed by the participants), show a segment of the DVD’s produced by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) for law enforcement, child protective services and prosecutors on the topics, as well as guide the training using the power point presentations.

The audiences were relatively small…but passionate. We did engage in some discussion that the importance of the topic is great, but recognition of it importance even here at this conference, is not reflected in large audiences. There were several rooms filled with several hundred people, and ours was about 40 for the presentation on Forensic Interviewing and 15 for First Responders. However, this compares favorably to 20 years ago when there were consistently about 5-10. Interest has doubled!

Much thanks to Marilyn Grundy, who is also a Consultant on this Disability and Abuse Project, for always inviting me to share my knowledge and information at this conference. I must say that co-presenting with Lori Brown was fantastic, as she is a law enforcement officer as well as a trained Forensic Interviewer and a trainer for the Finding Words curriculum in Georgia and nationally. She is so knowledgeable, and easy to work with, and makes a huge difference in the richness of the presentation.

Most of those present at the seminars signed up to join the Listserv, and were excited about all of the project activities including the newsfeed, but mostly the ability to stay in touch with one another as well as all of the experts and expertise among our Listserv members.

I encourage you to visit the website for the conference, to take a look at the workshops that were presented, and plan to attend next year. http://www.nationalcac.org/national-conferences/symposium.html

Returning to Huntsville to Share and Learn about Child Abuse

Today is Sunday March 18, 2012 and I am flying from Los Angeles, CA to Huntsville, Alabama to attend the 28th National Symposium on Child Abuse, sponsored by the National Child Advocacy Center.

This conference typically addresses the most important aspects of child abuse, and brings to Huntsville the child abuse experts from around the country. Thus, it is a joy to come to share my knowledge and experience, as well as to learn about the latest developments from my colleagues.

This year, I will be co-presenting two three-hour seminars with Lori Brown. The first on Forensic Interviewing of children with disabilities and the second the First Responder’s Skills when arriving on the scene to a child abuse call.

I first co-presented with Lori last December at the 2nd National Conference on Crime Victims with Disabilities presented by NCVC (The National Center for Victims of Crime) and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).  Lori is the Director of Forensic Services, Crimes Against Children Unit, Oconee County Sheriff’s Office, in Watkinsville, Georgia.  She specializes in interviews of children with developmental disabilities or other special needs.

I knew that I had been participating at this conference for many years, but when I checked on my curriculum vitae I learned that I first attended it in 1991. It is amazing at how much time has passed since I first went to Huntsville.

The conference is coordinated by Marilyn Grundy, who is also one of our Consultants on the Disability and Abuse Project! She has always enthusiastically supported workshops on children with disabilities for this Conference. I can honestly say that she is the ONLY conference coordinator to consistently reach out to make sure this population of kids is the focus of a workshop at “Sympo.”

Even though this conference is huge, the presenters are carefully screened. People who have been advocating for children for decades are speakers, including Cordelia Anderson, Julie Kenniston, and Victor Vieth, among others.

There is a significant law enforcement presence and, as times have changed, so have their presentations. Over the last several years there have been more presentations from law enforcement personnel on internet solicitation of children, and dangers of internet, social networks (such as My Space and Facebook), where children have become victims.

I will write another blog about the Symposium when I return home. Rekindling old friendships, making new friends and connections, and enjoying the atmosphere of comraderie and advocates-in-arms is always uplifting.

Many thanks and much appreciation go to Marilyn Grundy for working so hard to make it all happen, and happen so well.

Words matter in how we think and talk about sexual assault

A recent article posted on our newsfeed caused me to question the way the media portrays the crime of sexual assault. The article was titled “Teacher aide intended to commit sex crime with student, FBI says.” It states that he was arrested for “allegedly contacting a student with the intention of committing a sexual offense,” characterizing such assaults as “bad choices” and “sex crimes.”

Each of these terms brings into the reader’s mind a different level of victimization. The range from “bad choices” to sex crimes” is huge. In this case, the perpetrator used the internet and in-person contact in the commission of his crimes. What exactly did he do? We do not know.

In some cases, it appears that the press demeans or lessens the importance of the crime, for example referring to a sex crime as a “bad choice.” In today’s rampant discussions of obesity, “bad choices” is a frequent term. Even in other crimes, such as Lindsey Lohan’s violations related to drug use, the term “bad choices” has been used.

To me, raping someone is certainly a “bad choice,” but goes far beyond that. Why can’t the press agree on how to refer to a crime of rape, exposure, attempted rape, sodomy, etc? Even some terms seem so “light” for crimes that leave lasting emotional scars, such as, for example, “touching” and “fondling.” Fondling even sounds kind of nice, except when use in legal terms.

As a society, we do not handle information about sexual assault very well.  Have you noticed that during the Kobe Bryant trial, the term “victim” and “alleged victim” turned into “accuser,” and that term has stuck, to refer to sex crime victims?  What a clever yet devious way to persuade readers that most likely the perpetrator is innocent, and indeed the victim of a mean “accuser.” Now the perpetrator is called “the accused.” That is so much nicer than “suspect.”

The language we use when referring to the crime itself as well as the victim and the suspect, must be re-examined. We must identify and use terms that do not influence the reader one way or the other, but rather plainly state the facts as they are known. I would love to change the terms used in the teacher’s aide article to, “sex crime,” “sexual assault,” “victim” and “suspect.”