Now, the four women face charges of aggravated abuse of a disabled adult. The footage also spurred the Florida nonprofit that runs the group home, Attain, to fire all six employees present for the alleged abuse as it insists it properly screens and trains staff caring for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
“This does not represent our values when it comes to our obligation to supporting the most vulnerable,” the company’s executive director, Craig Cook, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “The situation angers us, and we want to do what’s necessary to make sure these bad actors are held accountable.”
Police, fire and medical personnel responded to the Mount Dora group home on Aug. 13 to find a patient with a lacerated lip and a “minor scrape” to her left knee, the detective’s affidavit states. The patient lives in the group home because she has a mental disability and is unable to care for herself.
Initial reports said that staff had used “several soft Control techniques” meant to de-escalate tough situations, based on training aimed at keeping a patient calm and managing their behavior without hurting them, police said.
But a review of surveillance video with the state’s Department of Children and Families uncovered a more troubling story.
Police say the abuse began with 42-year-old Shaneka Hester shoving the unidentified disabled woman; they believe that action caused the skinned knee. Jaleyah Wiggins, 24, also pushed the patient, police said.
Video shows another caregiver, identified by police as 25-year-old Carolyn Joe, shoving the woman to the ceramic floor in a common area. The woman gets up and reaches for Joe, touching her, only to be pushed again, this time into a couch.
Footage continues with the patient on the floor again in another room, staff standing around her. That’s where Joe pins the patient’s head with her right foot, her left foot leaving the ground so that, according to police, all her body weight fell on the woman.
Wiggins can also be seen throwing a shoe at the woman, and Breneisha Blunt, 29, uses a closed fist to strike the patient — both moves not approved or covered in the staff’s training on “soft control,” according to authorities.
The Post was unable to reach any of the four women charged Wednesday. Three have no lawyers named in their court records, and an attorney listed for Hester did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The women have been released from jail on $10,000 bonds.
Two other group home staff who police said did not participate in the attack but also did not stop it have been fired, according to Attain.
Cook said the nonprofit group, which operates 24 group homes in Florida and is funded with both state and federal dollars, screens employees with background checks and drug testing and requires at least a year’s relevant experience, plus two-and-a-half weeks of training before hires start work.
Attain is not aware of previous complaints against the employees who were charged, according to Cook. He declined to comment on how long the women had worked at the nonprofit, saying he cannot discuss specifics due to ongoing investigations by law enforcement and the Department of Children and Families.
Cook said Attain is “reengaging with our staff” about how to best support patients in the wake of the abuse charges.
“We take the trust the community has given us to support the most vulnerable seriously,” he said.