Group: Facility for Disabled Botched Rape Report

Allegations that facility didn't follow law, may have destroyed evidence

By Molly Priddy

HELENA — Staff members at a Montana facility for developmentally disabled people didn’t follow agency protocol or state law and allowed possible evidence to be destroyed after a resident reported being raped, an advocacy group claimed.

Disability Rights Montana said the woman reported being raped on Nov. 3 by a fellow resident at the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder.

Facility protocol requires staff to call police and take the accuser to a hospital for an exam. State law requires they call the Department of Justice to investigate.

None of those things happened immediately, said Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, executive director of the rights group.

“It’s almost like they were trying to determine whether or not this really happened,” Franks-Ongoy said Wednesday. “People with disabilities are often not believed. They’re second-guessed.”

The group said in a statement that two residents reported seeing a man grab the woman and force her into a staff bathroom, and that eight staffers knew within moments what had happened, but no one could find the key to the bathroom.

After someone opened the door from the inside, staff members interviewed the man, who denied any wrongdoing. No one interviewed the woman, who reported the rape an hour later, the group said.

The director of quality assurance asked a staff registered nurse, who was not trained in rape exams, to give the woman a pelvic exam. The nurse concluded the woman should be taken to a hospital, but by the time a nurse in Helena called Boulder police, housekeeping had cleaned the bathroom.

The investigation found Montana Developmental Center Superintendent Gene Haire knew about the reported rape and did not follow the facility’s policies.

“We are horrified by the allegations and we are doing everything we can to address all the issues raised in the DOJ report,” Richard Opper, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “Written protocols were not followed. We are going to find out why they weren’t and how to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

DPHHS spokesman Jon Ebelt said Haire would not be available to comment.

Disability Rights Montana believes the reported rape could have been prevented if the staffer assigned to supervise the man had been clearly told he couldn’t be left alone. The man is in the facility for treatment of opportunistic behaviors tied to his mental disability, Franks-Ongoy said, but the staffer was not aware of that.

The Justice Department and the advocacy group have not released the report, but the group is entitled to see it as part of its work for developmentally disabled people. Franks-Ongoy said the group plans to release a redacted version next week.

The report also has been forwarded to Jefferson County Attorney Mathew Johnson to determine if any charges should be filed.

Four years ago, a resident was sexually assaulted by a staff member at MDC. Staff members didn’t believe her and didn’t preserve the reported crime scene or any evidence, Franks-Ongoy said.

The staffer, Allen Whetstone, was convicted of sexual assault and the state paid a $350,000 settlement to the woman’s family.

The state Legislature passed a law that took effect in October 2013 that requires any instance of abuse or neglect to be investigated by the state Justice Department.

Since December 2013, the agency has substantiated 16 allegations of physical abuse, including throwing residents on the floor, punching, hitting and dragging them down the halls by their heels, Disability Rights Montana said.

Some employees have been fired, but five whose abuse has been substantiated still work at the facility, Franks-Ongoy said.

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