Thursday, November 26, 2009

South Carolina center for people with intellectual disabilities held liable for sexual assaults of residents


Officials at the Whitten Center didn't believe John Doe when he told them he was being sexually assaulted by Daniel Maxwell Bradley, a caregiver at the Clinton facility for the mentally handicapped. They said Doe had a history of making false claims against employees.

That all changed when the FBI came knocking at the door, and agents didn't come empty-handed. They had photographs, taken by Bradley and shared on the Internet, of the assaults.

Bradley eventually pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting three residents - including Doe, whose real name is being withheld because the Herald-Journal generally does not identify sexual assault victims.

Nov. 19, Circuit Judge Mark Hayes approved a settlement in which the Whitten Center agreed to pay Doe $300,000. The amount is the maximum allowed by law because the Whitten Center, a residential facility for the mentally handicapped that provides individualized training for its clients, is a state-run facility.

The money will be paid by the state Insurance Reserve Fund and will be placed in a trust fund for the 22-year-old victim.

Wes Kissinger, the attorney representing the victim, told Hayes the entire amount was to compensate the victim for his physical, mental and emotional pain. Kissinger said that although the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs denied any responsibility, it was negligent in its hiring and training of Bradley.

"Their attorney says they aren't liable," said the victim's mother, who was in court Thursday. "But this settlement says they are."

Bradley was 18 when he went to work at the Whitten Center in 2001. He said in a deposition that his mother filled out the application for him because his handwriting was illegible and that he never went to the center before being hired.

During his tenure, he was sent home at least twice because of a lack of personal hygiene.

Lois Park Mole, a spokeswoman for the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, said Bradley went through a rigorous hiring process. She said that included an interview with human resources staff, a State Law Enforcement Division check and a drug screening.

"There was nothing that gave us any reason to suspect this type of behavior," Mole said. "As soon as there was a reason, we cooperated completely with law enforcement. The health and safety of these residents is our highest priority."

In March 2004, the victim began living in the unit where Bradley worked second shift. He had been there less than a month when he told other workers that Bradley had sexually assaulted him in the shower.

Kissinger said the center suspended Bradley while it investigated the victim's claim. Five days later, officials said the allegations were unsubstantiated and reinstated Bradley.

Before Bradley could return to work, however, the FBI intervened. Bradley was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2006 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He is incarcerated at the Kershaw County Correctional Institution.

Mole said Bradley's suspension was not due to allegations of sexual assault, although she could not confirm the specific reason. She also said he was never "officially" reinstated.

The settlement is the third one involving the Whitten Center this year, Mole said, adding that the other two were not sexual assault cases. The payouts in the other cases were $25,000 and $130,000, respectively. Kissinger, an attorney with the Spartanburg firm of Harrison White Smith and Coggins, has another case pending against the facility. He would not comment on the specifics.

Doe was the only victim at the center who was able to communicate. His mother said "he spoke for so many others."

The victim is now at another facility in the state. His mother said the incident will "haunt" him and his family for the rest of their lives.

"You spend your whole life trying to protect your children and get them the care and support they need," she said. "Then you have a betrayal like this, and you never trust anyone again."