WRAL Investigates

Easter Seals cited for not reporting sex assault at Wilson group home

Posted November 17, 2015 6:53 p.m. EST
Updated November 17, 2015 7:10 p.m. EST

— Easter Seals UCP has been cited by state regulators after managers of a group home it operates in Wilson didn't promptly report that a resident of the home sexually assaulted another resident.

The group home on Tilghman Road houses up to six men with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

On July 30, a staff member suspected a 49-year-old resident of assaulting a 66-year-old man. According to a report by the state Division of Health Service Regulation, the crime was never reported to police even though the suspected assailant confessed to raping the resident repeatedly.

The man told staffers when questioned that the other man "did not want to have sex" and that he "tried to fight him off and make noises."

The staffer who first discovered the abuse tried repeatedly to get help, but a supervisor told her she couldn't do anything until she spoke with a regional manager and that the man didn't have any money to pay for a doctor's visit.

Two days later, when the staffer said scratches were still visible on the man's back from an assault, the supervisor allowed her to take the man to an urgent care clinic, where he was turned away because it wasn't equipped to handle a rape case and because the man couldn't pay, according to the report. The staffer then took him to a hospital emergency room, where police were called.

Wilson police turned their findings over to local prosecutors who, according to police, decided not to file charges because of the suspect's "mental impairment."

"(District attorneys) sometimes look at the criminal justice system and realize that the criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with anyone with significant disabilities or limitations," said Vicki Smith, director of Disability Rights North Carolina.

Smith added that locking up an intellectually disabled person isn't necessarily the answer, especially if the person doesn't realize he or she committed a crime.

"Did he have the capacity to understand consent and exploitation and power?" she asked.

Smith cast a harsher eye at Easter Seals.

"What did the staff do? How long did this go on, and what were there response?" she asked.

Easter Seals Regional Director Jean Kenefick acknowledged that "an incident" occurred at the Wilson group home that was investigated but resulted in no criminal charges, but she added state and federal confidentiality laws prohibit her from elaborating.

"Easter Seals UCP’s first priority is the safety and care of the people we support, and we report and respond to all allegations as required by law," Kenefick said in an email to WRAL News. "Whenever an incident like this occurs, our staff carefully follow our policies and procedures designed to protect the well-being and privacy of those individuals. Our policies and procedures align with State and Federal guidelines."

The suspected assailant has been moved out of the group home, and the staffer who first reported the abuse has been fired, according to the state report.