NY supervisor charged in autistic patient's death

August 3, 2011 8:03:01 PM PDT
A supervisor at a state-run facility for the mentally disabled in New York has been indicted on a criminally negligent homicide charge in an autistic patient's death.

The Staten Island district attorney says Erik Stanley, of Middletown, N.J., pleaded not guilty Wednesday. The developmental aide supervisor also is charged with endangering the patient's welfare.

The medical examiner determined Jawara Henry died Dec. 4 of asphyxiation by neck and chest compression.

"I'm happy that someone is going to pay for my son's death," Sharon Rowe said.

Given the opportunity to talk about her son, Sharon Rowe couldn't hold back her tears.

Her son, 27-year-old Jawara Henry, suffered from severe autism and died on the South Beach Psychiatric Center Campus during a program run by the state.

"It is a case about rampant abuse and neglect at the state run facility," Gary Douglas, the family's attorney said.

Eight months after his death, authorities announced the arrest of 37-year-old Erik Stanley.

He has been charged with criminally negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.

Investigators allege that while trying to restrain Henry, Erik Stanley, a supervisor, failed to follow protocol, failed to use proper techniques, and caused Henry's death by using excessive pressure on his neck and torso.

Stanley has been suspended from his job without pay.

Travis Proulx, the spokesman for the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) released a statement:

"OPWDD immediately suspended Erik Stanley, without pay. We are seeking Mr. Stanley's termination, and will unequivocally seek the termination of any employee who is guilty of abuse or neglect of an individual with developmental disabilities.

"Since Governor Cuomo's appointment of Commissioner Burke in March, OPWDD has been undergoing a transformation, with significant reforms that ensure accountability and protect the health and safety of individuals in our care. To ensure the safety of individuals with developmental disabilities, we have significantly strengthened hiring procedures and have made the oversight of all employees consistent. Any employee who has been found to have committed a serious incident of abuse or neglect is suspended immediately, without pay, as we seek their termination.

"Commissioner Burke has established strict basic standards for all new employees, which include having a high school diploma and valid driver's license, as well as mandatory psychological and drug testing, and a rigorous background check of the state's Child Abuse Registry and federal Medicaid registry, among others. The Commissioner has also centralized investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect, which will result in consistent consequences for those who compromise the health and safety of individuals in our care."

Henry's mother and attorney believe the problems at the facility are systemic.

"People in positions of authority turn a blind eye for months and months," Douglas said.

Stanley's attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.