NISKAYUNA, N.Y. - Attorneys for the family of a 22-year-old mentally disabled man are suing the state of New York after employees at O.D. Heck in Niskayuna allegedly beat their son with a stick, neglected him and left him malnourished before he died of pneumonia last year.
The civil lawsuit seeking an undetermined amount of damages was filed Monday on behalf of the victim's mother, identified as P.C., against six employees including O.D. Heck supervisor Lisa Taylor Monday.
The family's attorney Ilann Maazel says the death of the victim, identified as K.C., is could be linked to the inhumane treatment he received while in the state's care.
Five of the six employees mentioned in the lawsuit are women. The defendants listed by name are Lisa Taylor, Lauri Tomoassi, Sharon Butler, Eric Sadlon, Lekisha Terrell, "Hershani" Doe.
"The lawsuit alleges absolutely shocking and inhumane treatment by many NY State employees of over a long period of time. This was not an isolated incident," Maazel said.
K.C. was born on August 29, 1988. He was severely disabled from birth, carrying diagnoses of CHARGE syndrome, mental retardation, and autism. He was non-verbal.
On February 28, 2011 K.C. was rushed to the hospital with respiratory failure, according to the report.
Then on March 30, 2011, K.C. was pronounced dead after being diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia that had spread to his liver and kidneys, according to the report.
According to the lawsuit, K.C. was 21-years-old when he was first enrolled in the O.D. Heck Developmental Center. He resided in apartment 9D of the Consaul Road Program and attended the on-site Day Program in Building 10. When he arrived at the hospital with symptoms of pneumonia, he was malnourished and suffering from various unexplained injuries.
His mother says she was not allowed to visit K.C. for the first three months he was enrolled because it would make it more difficult for him to adjust to the new environment by one of the supervisors.
Maazel says K.C. was regularly subjected to torture, including physical and verbal abuse.
According to the report:
"K.C. spent his days on 9D confined to a small blue gym mat on the floor in the corner of a room."
"He was permitted to leave this restricted area only when he soiled his pull-up and needed to be changed or at meal times."
"Upon information and belief, Defendants Taylor, Tomassi, Butler and Sadlon beat K.C. with the sticks when he attempted to get off the mat. Even while trapped on the mat, they beat him with the sticks. When they did not want others to see them beat K.C., they would take him into the sensory room and continue the beatings there."
"Supervisor Lisa Taylor referred to the stick as 'the magic wand.'"
"Staff that were suppose to take care of a vulnerable young man taunted him, berated him and physically abused him," Maazel said. "It reflects a completely broken system that needs drastic and immediate reform."
In 2007 Maazel also represented the family of 13-year-old Jonathan Carey, a mentally disabled child who was smothered to death by O.D. Heck employee Edwin Tirado. Tirado is now serving time in state prison.
Michael Carey, the father of Jonathan says this new case involving workers from the same institution shows that the state's system for caring for disabled people, including children is broken.
"It's still an extremely dangerous system, NY State has not put in the safety measures to stop the abuse from happening and this is another example of what happens when you don't hire the proper staff and monitor that it can lead to death like it did with Jonathan and like it has in this new case," Carey said.
Carey said he reached out the family to let them know he supported their decision to move forward with the lawsuit.
NEWS10 reached out to O.D. Heck for a comment. Sue Smallwood said their Spokesperson Travis Proulx told her they "can not comment on any litigation."
The State Inspector General is investigating this case, meaning criminal charges could come as well.
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