Jonathan Carey and the Horrible Issues With New York’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities


Outside of today’s media mayhem, there’s some serious journalism happening on the front page of Monday’s New York Times. The paper has a huge exposé as part of an ongoing investigation into New York state’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, focusing on the unbelievably awful death in 2007 of Jonathan Carey, an autistic 13-year-old boy in state care, who was suffocated by a man meant to watch over him. “I could be a good king or a bad king,” the worker reportedly said to the boy as he was asphyxiating; the state employee was “a ninth-grade dropout with a criminal conviction for selling marijuana” and “had been on duty during at least one previous episode of alleged abuse involving Jonathan.” And this sort of abuse, the Times reports, is widespread.

Carey was a resident of the Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center near Albany, one of the many state centers for developmental disabilities, which collect $2.5 billion annually, “with about 60 percent coming from Washington.” The money is then reallocated by the state, still eventually totaling “nearly $430,000 per person,” though that speaks not at all to the quality of care the patients are receiving.

O.D. Heck, for example, had “at least 18 serious injuries of residents in a five-month period, in a facility holding only 57 people. Eight of the injuries, including five fractures, were of unknown origin.”

Those put in charge, the Times reports, likely shouldn’t have been:

Direct-care workers were often high school dropouts, some with criminal convictions. One lower-level supervisor had a petty larceny conviction. Edwin Tirado, the employee eventually convicted of manslaughter in Jonathan’s death, had been convicted of selling marijuana and, as a youthful offender, for firing a shotgun in his attic.

Nadeem Mall, a trainee at O. D. Heck who pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in Jonathan’s death, was fired from four different private providers of services to the developmentally disabled, lasting less than a year at each of them, before he was hired by the state.

When five staff members were punished, “One of them wrote in a Facebook posting: ‘im on administration vacation as well,’ adding, ‘cheers brother here’s to beating retards.'”

There have been some changes already to the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, thanks in no small part to the Times‘ investigation, though the problems persist:

Its new commissioner, Courtney Burke, is a well-regarded policy analyst but lacks management experience. She has taken over an agency with 23,000 employees; previously, she managed no more than seven.

Read the rest of the stunning, heartbreaking feature here.