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March 13, 2009 permalink
How do group home workers break the long nights of boredom? They arrange fights between their wards. We wonder how much they bet on the outcomes.
FBI to investigate Corpus Christi State School 'fight club' case
04:59 PM CDT on Friday, March 13, 2009
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News, email@example.com
AUSTIN – Corpus Christi police said they have arrested three of six state workers accused of forcing mentally disabled state school residents into "fight club"-style brawls – the same day the FBI announced it would investigate civil rights violations at the facility.
Corpus Christi Police Lt. Isaac Valencia said police are still seeking three other suspects, one of them out of state.
Criminal charges against the six stem from allegations this week that for more than a year, workers at the Corpus Christi State School forced disabled residents into orchestrated, late-night fights. The employees were caught after videos of at least 20 fights were discovered on a cellphone that was lost and turned in to police.
In custody are Vince Johnson, 21; Timothy Dixon, 30; and Stephanie Garza, 21.
Johnson and Dixon – the owner of the cellphone – are charged with injury to a disabled person, a third-degree felony. Their bail has been set at $30,000.
Garza is charged with a state jail felony for allegedly failing to intervene to stop the fights. Her bail is $15,000.
Still being sought are Jesse Salazar, 25; Guadalupe Delarosa, 21; and Dangelo Riley, 22. All are charged with injury to a disabled person.
Arrest warrants obtained by The Dallas Morning News allege that five of the employees encouraged, filmed or narrated the fights – which were documented in still images as well as the cellphone videos.
Riley is allegedly seen kicking a resident during a fight, while Dixon is accused of doing much of the filming and narration on his personal phone.
Four of the videos show residents, who are profoundly disabled, suffering injuries.
Officials with the Department of Aging and Disability Services said Delarosa and Riley left their jobs last year. The others have been fired.
Since the "fight club" scandal surfaced, the agency has made surprise overnight visits to every dorm in every state school. At Gov. Rick Perry's order, they also began installing video cameras, hiring security guards and adding overnight supervisors at all facilities. New admissions to the Corpus Christi facility have been halted.
"If you can imagine individual residents being woken up at night, being forced to fight with one another, while people who work for ... the state watch, encourage, incite, laugh and participate," Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, told agency officials at a hearing Thursday.
"I encourage you to do everything you can right now, and I'm disappointed that we haven't done more. "
Lawmakers, some of whom have seen the videotaped fights, are moving quickly to enact emergency state school safety legislation, which passed the Senate on Monday and got a hearing before the House Human Services Committee on Thursday. They're under the gun from the U.S. Department of Justice, which last year reported widespread abuse, neglect and civil rights violations in Texas' state school system.
The bill would creates an ombudsman to oversee abuse and neglect investigations, and would require employees to submit to random drug tests and fingerprinting.
Advocates for people with disabilities said the measure doesn't go far enough – particularly in light of the fight-club revelations.
They say security guards and surveillance cameras are a Band-Aid on a system that is in crisis, a system so strapped for cash that it's forced to hire inexperienced, unprofessional employees.
A search of the state's employee database indicates that all of those charged in the Corpus Christi case were entry-level workers who made $22,000 a year or less. All had worked at the state school for less than two years.
"An environment that breeds such atrocities is unfixable," said Jeff Garrison-Tate, a former Advocacy Inc. investigator who now runs the nonprofit Community Now.
"This so-called fight club bears witness to a new low in Texas. You can't even make this stuff up."
The forced fights, while highly organized in Corpus Christi, don't appear to be unique to that facility. The News reported on Wednesday that staff at both the Mexia and San Angelo state schools provoked physical altercations between residents in the last six months – and that at least five state-school employees had been fired, demoted or suspended since 2006 for such activity.
Staff writer Marcus Funk contributed to this report.
Source: Dallas Morning News