Caregivers caught on camera abusing disabled woman in Florida - The Peoples Ledger

Caregivers caught on camera abusing disabled woman in Florida


August 27th, 2019

Stephen Hudak, Orlando Sentinel

Mount Dora police on Monday released videos showing the alleged abuse of a disabled woman by caregivers at a group home. One caregiver can be seen standing on the woman’s head.

The videos show two different camera angles from inside the home capturing the abuse, Mount Dora spokeswoman Lisa McDonald said in an email.

All four women turned themselves in and were booked into the Lake County Jail last week. All four were terminated.

Police blurred the identities of the group home’s clients in the video. All of the clients have severe behavioral disabilities.

Lake County sheriff’s reports identify the caregivers as Sheneka Hester, 42; Breneisha Blunt, 29; and Jaleyah Wiggins, 24; all of Eustis, and Carolyn Joe, 25, of Tavares.

Sheriff’s detective Angela Smith, who investigated the Aug. 13 incident, described the abuse as a “very heavy set” caregiver standing on the woman’s head.

Smith wrote that this “could have easily caused great bodily harm or even death” to the unnamed victim, a client of the group home.

The disabled woman, who resides at the home because of “diminished mental capacity and inability to care for herself, ” also was punched by the caregivers.

Two other staffers witnessed the alleged assault “but did nothing to stop it, ” Smith said in the report.

Sheriff’s reports identify the caregivers as Sheneka Hester, 42; Breneisha Blunt, 29; and Jaleyah Wiggins, 24; all of Eustis, and Carolyn Joe, 25, of Tavares.

Joe was identified in court documents as the worker who stood on the woman’s head.

Warrants were issued Monday for the four, charging them with aggravated abuse of a disabled adult.

Blunt surrendered Wednesday to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Wiggins, Hester and Joe turned themselves in Thursday.

Melanie Etters, spokeswoman for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, said all four and the witnesses who failed to intervene are no longer working in the home.

The four-bedroom, two-bath house, licensed last year, is operated by Orlando-based nonprofit Attain, Inc., and classified by the Agency for Persons with Disability as a group home for women with intensive behavioral disabilities. The victim in the alleged abuse case is one of six state clients living at the home, located on Mary Lane near Walmart in Mount Dora.

Intensive behavior group homes serve individuals with extremely challenging behaviors.

The homes have more stringent behavioral training requirements for direct-care staff, and higher staffing levels than standard group homes, Etters said.

APD, which has statutory oversight for group homes, “has a zero tolerance policy for any forms of abuse of individuals with disabilities, and we hold our providers to the highest level of accountability, ” Etters said. “APD has conducted wellness checks for the other group home residents to ensure their health and safety in an abundance of caution.”

The state Department of Children & Families was notified of the incident a week ago. A spokeswoman for the agency didn’t return messages seeking additional details.

According to a Mount Dora police news release Thursday, officers observed bruising on the woman’s face, “including a laceration, and a skinned knee.”

On Aug. 15, Mount Dora police and a DCF investigator visited the Mount Dora offices of Attain Inc., which describes itself as a “not-for-profit corporation supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” The investigators met with Attain’s regional director, who pulled surveillance footage from a camera inside the home.

Police said the video “revealed that the female resident had been battered by employees.”

The police statement said the woman’s “behavior while the officers were on scene was extremely erratic and consistent with the employees’ statements at the time.”

The officers evaluated the victim under the provisions of Florida’s Baker Act but decided she didn’t meet the criteria for being temporarily hospitalized for mental health evaluation and treatment.

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