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