I-Team: Allegations of Abuse at State-Run Facility for Disabled
By Nathan Baca, Investigative Reporter - bio | email
Mike Hicks claimed an employee hit him in the head.
Oscar Morales claims he was part of a so-called fight club.
Jakob Bluel also claimed to be part of a so-called fight club.
LAS VEGAS -- Developmentally disabled patients at a local care center are ending up with serious injuries they claim are coming from staff members. Photos show patients with chipped teeth, bloodied faces and deep cuts.
When police reports begin showing the same state employee names popping up on abuse allegations, the I-Team took notice.
Patsy Hicks looks at the scars her son Mike collected over the years. A head-on car crash left the 26-year-old mentally disabled. But it's a scar on the top of Mike's head that has Hicks most worried.
"I have a mother's love and I don't want anybody to abuse my son," she said.
Mike Hicks is a patient at Las Vegas' Desert Regional Center, a state run center that helps people with intellectual disabilities. Hicks lives in unit 1301. One February night, Mike says he woke up hearing noises next door and went to report them. The supervisor on duty, Harry Daniels, was apparently resting on a chair and was startled when Mike approached.
"He stood up and struck me in the head with a hole puncher. A big hole puncher. Not a little one, a big one. One of the heavy ones," Mike Hicks said. "I blacked out. I fell on the floor and blacked out. Then I was bleeding everywhere."
Daniels did not take Hicks to the hospital. Workers from the next shift took Hicks to a doctor two hours later. More than five hours after the injury, someone at Desert Regional Center called police.
Hick's mother says they never bothered to call her.
"I was furious. I was really upset. They didn't even call me for a meeting," she said.
If Harry Daniels' name is familiar, it's because his name showed up in a previous police report. The I-Team uncovered pictures of severely autistic men ending up with painful and persistent injuries. Patients told the I-Team, staff members organized fight rings inside unit 1301.
Attorney Adam Graff now represents three families alleging abuse of their adult children at DRC. Graff says DRC staff is the problem.
"Seem to believe that they can do whatever the heck they want to do to these people because it's their word against the word of the staff. All these patients are crazy people so you obviously can't trust what they're saying. They're intoxicated on power," Graff said.
Michelle Ferrall, the deputy administrator for the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services, told the I-Team, she couldn't comment on specific cases. When she was shown pictures of the alleged victims, she denied any abuse was taking place.
DRC officials say they often deal with patients injuring themselves. In a written report to police, Harry Daniels claimed Hicks hit himself.
I-Team: "When Harry says, that, in effect, you hit yourself."
Hicks: "That's a damn lie."
"Because that's what happened! These people are telling the truth. They're not capable of inventing these kinds of details. Their conditions are such that they have to tell the truth. They don't know how to do otherwise," Graff said.
Officials with Desert Regional Center declined an on-camera interview about Hick's incident. Instead, they sent a statement:
"An independent investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance and an internal investigation was conducted by DRC. Both investigations found the allegations regarding staff abuse to be unsubstantiated."
Mike Hicks still lives at the center because it's the only southern Nevada option for traumatic brain injury patients. However, Hicks says he lives with a growing sense of fear.
"If something happens to me again, what if they kill me this time?"
Following the I-Team investigation, the state has "pending discipline" against one employee accused of assaulting DRC patients.
Congresswoman Dina Titus has also gotten involved and written a letter about the alleged abuse.
""It's devastating when you think about people who are the most vulnerable in our society who need the greatest care and they're potentially being harmed or mistreated. You want to get to the root of the problem."
Desert Regional Center officials have announced policy changes. They say they are now reporting all abuse allegations to Metro Police's Abuse and Neglect Detail. They are also asking Nevada's Commission on Mental Health and Developmental Services to conduct an independent review of the center.