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Bystander Reports Seeing Staffer Punch O.D. Heck Resident During Outing
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 23, 2008

MECHANICVILLE, NEW YORK--Four staff members of the O.D. Heck Developmental Center have been charged with crimes after a concerned citizen reported seeing one of them punch a resident during an outing, while the other three allegedly stood by and did nothing.

Long-time staffer Christina Brandon, 46, has been charged with third-degree assault and endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person. The others were charged with failing to report the alleged incident to the proper authorities.

Pamela Russell, a private investigator from Vermont who was working on an unrelated case, told police that on June 5 she stopped for lunch at a McDonald's restaurant in Mechanicville. Russell said that while she was there she saw the resident -- a woman with autism who does not talk and is blind -- spill Brandon's salad.

Russell said she then saw Brandon punch the woman in the chest, and yell, "You spilled my f___ing salad!"

"The victim began to rock back and forth rapidly and reached out to the aide, but the aide allegedly forcefully wrestled down and flung the arm on the victim's lap," Mechanicville police said in a press release.

Heck Developmental Center workers Dranae Washington, 37; Natalie Richardson, 49; and Sharon Butler, 48, were charged with endangerment "because they are required to report the incident to the proper authorities immediately but did nothing," police said.

The facility has been under scrutiny since another resident with autism was suffocated to death during an outing last year.

Thirteen-year-old Jonathan Carey died when O.D. Heck worker Edwin Tirado Jr. restrained him in the back of a van on February 15, 2007. Police said Tirado and another staff member drove around town for more than an hour after the restraint, instead of taking Carey to a nearby hospital.

The new allegations came to light the same week that the New York Inspector General issued an extensive report condemning two state agencies for failing to fully investigate allegations of abuse at the privately-run Anderson School where Carey had been housed three years earlier. Inspector General Joseph Fisch said the state Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, and the Office of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities failed to fully communicate what they found to Carey's parents, state lawmakers, and the governor.

Last year, state lawmakers passed "Jonathan's Law" to give parents greater access to information about their children's treatment at residential facilities. Carey's parents had lobbied hard for the measure.

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