Advocates urged passage of a new law Monday requiring mandatory 911 calls to police when disabled people under the care of the state are injured, replacing the current system which handles most incidents in-house by agency officials.
“Physical and sexual assaults are crimes,” said Michael Carey, who autistic son Jonathan was killed in 2007 by an Office of Mental Health employee from the O.D. Heck facility in Niskayuna. “They are felonies. If they are kept from law enforcement, who is being protected? It’s the abusers.”
“Basically the police and district attorneys are almost always bypassed and most of these cases totally disappear,” Carey said. Instead, the state and union representatives conduct “back room hearings. They are plea bargaining down criminal matters that were never reported to the police.”
Carey said the state worker who killed Jonathan is now serving his 9th year of a 5-to-15 year sentence in state prison.
Robert Santoriella, a NYC lawyer who represents disabled clients, said a number of suspicious deaths have occurred that were not promptly reported to police and prosecutors. He said the current system bypassing 911 violates the constitutional right of developmentally disabled people to equal protection under the law.
Carey and other advocates said the state Justice Center in charge of such investigations has proven to a failure. The center was created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in response to a New York Times expose of the treatment of autistic and severely disabled people in the care of the state.
The bill has sponsors in both the Senate and Assembly but has not been discharged from committees there to permit a vote. Advocates said the opposition appears to be from supporters of the Justice Center and from the CSEA labor union, which represents workers in state care facilities.
“What they are doing is they are trying to do is protect state employees with known histories — some with two, three, four notices of discipline … histories of people involved in criminal acts, protected and shielded, plea bargained down in back room deals with the union, and these people are still working in this field, re-offending other people,” Carey said. “That’s what’s happening. People need to know the truth.”
CSEA spokesman Steve Madarasz said that the union is involved with efforts to sort out what happens when a problem occurs, and “the fact is under the Justice Center people still have the obligation to report any crimes that they seen.”
“We’re not interested in protecting anyone who is abusing people and if they are it is a criminal matter,” he said.
The Justice Center did not have an immediate statement on the press conference Monday.
The bill calls for incidents of suspected abuse and neglect of people under state care to be reported to police via the 911 operator, as well as to the county district attorney and the state central registry. Failure to do so would constitute a felony.
According to the bill sponsors, about 1 million people are under state care in New York who are disabled, addicted, mentally ill, or minors in need of supervision.
“We don’t look at this as eliminating the Justice Center, but as supplementing it and filling a void that is not being done … the idea is if you suspect some abuse, call immediately and worry about what happens later,” said Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens) one of the sponsors. “These situations are often emergency situations. It’s better to be safe than sorry and if we save one life out of this, it is going to be worth it.”
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