Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pennsylvania caretaker charged, released on $25,000 bail in death of man with Down syndrome

From The Public Opinion:

The caretaker who allegedly sat on a man with Down syndrome until he died has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

According to court documents, a certified instructor who provides training for Timothy Smith's (pictured) care agency told police that two of Smith's caretakers had acted improperly.

Joseph Easton, 39, Chambersburg, was arraigned at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 18 before Magisterial District Judge Kelly Rock, according to court records. He was released on $25,000 unsecured bail.

"The time and manner of his arrest and arraignment was left to the discretion of the arresting officer, Trooper Jeffrey Bopp," according to a statement issued Tuesday by Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal.

The involuntary manslaughter charge alleges that Easton was responsible for the death of Smith, 37, "as a direct result of doing a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner," the statement said.

Smith's sister, Becki Boor, said her family has "mixed feelings" about how the case is proceeding.

"We know it wasn't intentional, and I don't think there was malice, but I think there was plenty of time for him to realize that it was wrong," she said.

Smith died Sept. 9 at his 31 Field Circle residence in Guilford Township. The home is owned by Person Directed Supports, Inc. Easton and Elizabeth Camacho were Smith's on-duty caretakers the day he died, according to police.

The police investigation determined the incident began after lunch that day when Easton told Smith to do something, and he responded by staring at the caretaker, according to police. When asked a second time, Smith reportedly "threw a balled-up paper towel at Easton and then charged" at him.

According to police, a struggle ensued, and Smith reportedly "attempted to gouge Easton's eyes" as the caretaker "attempted to restrain" him. Both men fell to the floor, with Smith on top of Easton.

Camacho "attempted to calm (Smith) down" before calling her supervisor, Latisha Brown, for help.

Meanwhile, Easton managed to flip Smith face-down on the floor and straddled his waist, holding his arms "outstretched over his head by the wrists," according to police. After Smith stopped struggling, Easton continued to straddle him, "but shifted his body from a kneeling position" to one knee and one foot, he told police.

He reportedly remained in that position on top of Smith until other PDS staff arrived. When Easton got up, Smith remained face-down on the floor and "appeared to be breathing," staff told police.

When PDS nurse Carrie Young arrived, she called 911.

According to police, staff reported that Smith had a history of attacking members and "playing possum." "All staff present at the scene stated that they thought the victim was pretending," according to a police affidavit.

Boor said she takes issue with this claim. Because of his mental disability, she doubts her brother could have remained motionless without making a sound for an extended period of time unless something was wrong. "His ability to play dead was about 30 seconds," she said.

Franklin County Coroner Jeffrey Conner ruled Smith's death a homicide. An autopsy determined the cause to be traumatic asphyxia.

According to the autopsy report, Smith weighed 186 pounds at the time of his death. The caretaker's weight was listed as 260 pounds.

"It doesn't matter what the behavior of the person was," Boor said. "They're the professionals that are supposed to have the training to deal with whatever comes their way."

According to the affidavit, police interviewed John Bryant Ramos, a certified training instructor for PDS who "trained Easton on the restraints that are approved for use."

When told about how Smith was reportedly restrained on Sept. 9, Ramos told investigators that "Camacho should have intervened to try and separate" the two men.

He also said that "once Easton got the victim on the floor, he should have backed off and not continued to restrain him," according to the affidavit.

Involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

Boor said she worries that her brother will be remembered by his reported behavior on the day he died.

"He was a joyful person. He was happy, he loved music, he loved going to church," she said. "It's a terrible tragedy, and absolutely terrible tragedy