'Fight club' probed at home for disabled
Seven employees suspended at state-run school in Texas; charges expected
March 10, 2009 / MSNBC
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Seven employees of a state-run home for the mentally disabled in Texas have been suspended for staging fights between residents who were forced to shove, punch and strike each other, authorities said Tuesday.
Police learned of the fights when someone gave a cell phone containing videos of the brawls at the Corpus Christi State School to an off-duty officer on Friday, police Captain Tim Wilson said by phone from Corpus Christi, in the southern part of the state.
"Workers were running their own fight club using clients. It's pretty appalling that someone would think of this," he said.
In the videos, which show several fights dating back to 2007, mentally disabled male residents can be seen fighting each other while the employees watch. In one video, a disabled resident raises his hands in victory after a bout, Wilson said.
"It's pretty appalling. I've been in police work over 30 years and I've never anything like this," he said. "These people who were charged with caring for these clients were exploiting them for entertainment."
Police expect to file charges later this week, said Wilson. Most of the employees seen in the videos have been identified, he said.
Laura Albrecht, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the institutions known as state schools, said the videos show seven current and four former employees. The current employees have been placed on emergency leave pending the investigation.
"Any abuse or neglect of residents placed in our care will not be tolerated," said Albrecht.
These are the latest in a spate of abuse allegations against state school employees in recent years.
A 2008 federal report cited 53 deaths linked to preventable conditions at the institutions. The report also called hundreds of reports of abuse and injuries to patients "disturbingly high."
The school opened in 1970 and is home to about 360 people, according to the Web site of the state Department of Aging and Disability Services.