New York Group Home Likened to Bronx Zoo

     MANHATTAN (CN) — Less than four miles south of the Bronx Zoo, staffers at a New York state-run home for the severely disabled treat the vulnerable people in their care “worse than animals,” three families claim in a federal lawsuit.
     On Union Avenue in the South Bronx, the state runs a “sadistic group home where its employees perpetrate unspeakable physical and psychological abuse on severely disabled individuals,” according to a 46-page lawsuit filed Monday.
     The families, who remained anonymous except for their initials, quote an investigation from the state’s Justice Center that found that employees of this group home punched, kicked, shoved, spat on, and starved disabled residents in their care.
     “Staff call this place the ‘Bronx Zoo,’ but animals in the Bronx Zoo are treated much better,” the complaint states. “Its real name is the Union Avenue IRA.”
     The sister of D.K., who is now 47, says that seizures left her profoundly impaired since she was a toddler, and she was first placed in a group home around the age of 10 years old.
     Her sister says their “first hint” that D.K.’s abuse came when she tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, even though she is legally incompetent to consent.
     For the sister of Z.O., a 48-year-old who first required residential care as an adolescent, those signs started roughly five years ago in the form of swollen legs and sporadic bruises on her legs and arms.
     “In 2013 and 2014, Z.O. was taken to the hospital for unexplained or inadequately explained injuries at least a dozen times,” the complaint states.
     One of those hospitalizations required an emergency room visit to sew six stitches on her mouth to close a laceration, Z.O.’s sister claims.
     During summer 2014, all three plaintiffs — including B.R., who is 35 — allegedly had to be taken to the hospital for black eyes.
     When B.R.’s father asked a supervisor what happened, he was told: “We don’t know. She woke up that way,” according to the complaint.
     The lawsuit names four supervisors, six staffers, and four directors of the state’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities as defendants, along with an unknown number of accused John Does.
     The lead defendant is staffer Tiffany Teams, who worked for the state agency since 2003, according to the complaint.
     Attorney Ilann Maazel, a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady serving as lead counsel for the families, accused the state of turning a blind eye to what he called the home’s “revolting, appalling, inhuman” practices.
     “This case represents a complete breakdown in hiring, training, investigation, discipline, and oversight,” he said in a statement. “We call on Governor Cuomo and the Bronx District Attorney to get justice for these families, and to make sure no disabled person is abused in a New York State group home ever again.”
     A spokeswoman for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities called any abuse “completely unacceptable” in a statement.
     “In response to a number of allegations made in 2014, OPWDD referred the matter to the Justice Center which conducted a full investigation into the allegations,” the spokeswoman said. “OPWDD immediately placed the accused employees on administrative leave, is taking disciplinary action against those found responsible and is implementing comprehensive program review to ensure proper oversight and retraining of staff on site. We are unable to provide any further comment due to the pending litigation.”
     The Bronx DA’s office said in a statement, “We are studying the allegations and take them seriously.”

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