Saturday, August 22, 2009

Death of teen at Texas state school ruled homicide

From The Avalanche-Journal in Lubbock, Texas:

The Lubbock County Medical Examiner's office has ruled the June death of a Lubbock State School resident a homicide, and the mother of the 45-year-old told The Avalanche-Journal her son died in a struggle with school staff.

Criminal charges have not yet been filed in the death of Michael Nicholson (pictured), who died June 6.

The Lubbock Police Department presented a manslaughter case this morning to the Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether charges are filed and against whom.

Police wouldn’t release any possible suspects in the case this afternoon.

The medical examiner’s office said Nicholson’s cause of death was a physical altercation with a period of suffocation.

According to the report, Nicholson was partially on a bed and positioned for a period of time during which his head and neck were abnormally stretched. He was on a mattress with an individual lying over a portion of his upper torso.

He then became unresponsive, the report reads.

Nicholson's mother, Lilly Nicholson, told The A-J that a staff member restrained her son.

She said she travelled from her Castro County home this morning to visit with Medical Examiner Sridhar Natarajan.

“(The staff) got carried away. If they hadn’t done what they did, Michael would be alive today,” she said.

Nicholson said her son — who suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in relation to the clothes he wore — refused to dress on June 6 while “his one set of clothes” was being washed. Because of the condition, he was “allowed to be naked in his room,” she said.

“They did dress him, but they killed him in the process,” she said.

The family has received numerous reports from the Lubbock State School — now officially named the Lubbock State Supported Living Center — and the state agencies that oversee the school, she said. The documents, Nicholson said, detail how her son was “body slammed” against a wall, “choked until he turned blue” and restrained by an employee “sitting on him.”

The Lubbock Department of Disability and Aging Services (DADS) declined an A-J request for the documents, and has asked the Texas Attorney General to rule on whether they need to legally release them.

Most concerning to Nicholson was evidence in the reports that staff member Donnell Smith restrained the resident by “laying on him six or seven times.”

Three other staff, she said, were present on in the room while Smith restrained Nicholson, causing him to “turn blue and stop breathing.”

“No-one came to his aid,” she said.

Six state school employees — including Smith, Jessica Santos, Abrisha Henderson, Amiya Harper, Craig Stevenson and Omar Jordan — were fired from the school after the incident. The DADS later confirmed the firings were made when a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigation confirmed their involvement in the “physical abuse and neglect of the patient,” Laura Albrecht, a state press officer for the DADS, said in July.

Nicholson said Friday she hoped police would prosecute those involved in her son’s death.

“People should pay for what they do. He was employed at his own free will to work with people like Michael,” she said.

“This was a senseless thing. There was nothing else wrong with Michael,” she added. “He was murdered.”

The Lubbock State School houses approximately 300 people with the diagnosis of mental retardation. The 24-hour residential facility, located at 3401 N. University Ave., sits on a 226-acres site about three miles north of the city.