Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club

I can't believe this happened. I also can't believe that the maximum sentence the folks who ran this 'fight club' face is a State jail felony.

As anyone knows the measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members. This certainly is not a good way to treat these folks and the ones who did this, who were entrusted with the care of these folks, should be subjected to more severe punishment in my humble opinion.

I am glad that the State Representatives and Senators are taking note of the situation.
Mental patients in 'Fight Club'
By Terri Langford - Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — State officials ordered the immediate suspension of admissions to Corpus Christi State School on Tuesday after a police investigation revealed at least 11 employees had forced profoundly mentally disabled men to engage in videotaped “fight club” battles at the facility.

In the fights, filmed with a camera phone, male residents can be seen pushing, shoving and punching one another as employees encouraged them to continue.

A mentally disabled man in one scene can be seen raising his hands in victory after winning, Corpus Christi police Capt. Tim Wilson said.

Wilson said the cell phone, turned in March 3 to an off-duty officer, contained images dating to 2007.

“It appears that the workers were using clients as some sort of fight club,” said Wilson, whose department is part of a joint investigation with the Texas Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “I've been in police work for 30 years and I've never seen something like this. These workers are exploiting them for their own entertainment.”

Of the 11 employees identified in the videos, seven were placed on leave and four others had resigned or been fired previously. No names of the employees were released and requests for a copy of the video were denied.

State officials quickly began hiring extra security guards Tuesday to help protect residents in Corpus until cameras can be purchased and installed this week. It's not clear how many residents were forced to fight. Residents seen in the images were assessed by health professionals and found to be free of injuries. They are receiving additional counseling.

“We're not going to put up with it. We're not going to have it,” said Jay Kimbrough, Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff, who will assist in the investigation. “These are the most vulnerable and here's where we have the greatest responsibility. We just can't have this.”

Kimbrough, who two years ago was the special master investigating a sex abuse scandal at the Texas Youth Commission, said he was shocked and saddened when he heard the video images indicated the abuse took place for years.

“That's the thing that could have taken my breath away,” Kimbrough said. “That it could have spanned over a year.”

State records show Corpus Christi State School ranks fourth among the 13 schools in the number of confirmed abuse or neglect findings by the state.

In the year that ended last Aug. 31, there were 60 confirmed incidents of abuse or neglect at Corpus Christi State School, according to Texas Adult Protective Services.

Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, said complaints about the state school in his district have gone on for years. He said he and other lawmakers have been “sounding the alarm” for years about the Corpus Christi State School, particularly after a 2007 town hall-style meeting they had with relatives of residents at the facility.

“Back in 2007, we had been getting a lot of reports from staff and family members of abuse and neglect,” Ortiz said.

Family members had brought pictures of unexplained bruising of their loved ones and recalled for lawmakers how their complaints were always determined to be “inconclusive” as to whether abuse occurred.

The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), the agency that oversees the troubled state school system, said little in the wake of Tuesday's revelations, which come as Texas lawmakers move a set of reforms quickly through the Legislature.

“I am appalled that anyone would cruelly subject our most vulnerable citizens to abuse for sport,” said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, author of an emergency measure that passed Monday to improve state schools.

“These allegations are disgraceful and unacceptable,” said Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, whose House version of the Nelson's bill goes to a committee this week.

In the wake of the fight club allegations, Perry's office detailed immediate actions being taken by DADS.

Some of the agency's measures were rushed versions of measures included in Nelson's bill, in an attempt to shore up security at the Corpus Christi facility which cares for 376 mentally disabled people whose ages ranges from 18 to 79.

In addition to suspending admissions and installing security cameras at Corpus Christi, state school managers were instructed to make random unannounced inspections during evening and late-night shifts.

Additional supervisors also have been assigned to all evening shifts at the 13 state schools and centers.

Last year, a Justice Department report blasted DADS' 13-facility state school system, saying all residents were in danger of mistreatment.

In Corpus Christi, Wilson said arrests are expected by the end of this week. Charges could include injury to a disabled person, a felony.

“Depending on the participation of the suspects ... it could be a state jail sentence,” Wilson said.