Sunday, October 24, 1999, 09:58 p.m. PDT
Little-known state program failing to protect the disabled
by Kim Barker
Seattle Times staff reporter
Someone is supposed to follow Mark Keating everywhere, even into public bathrooms, for he was convicted of molesting one woman and the state thinks he is very dangerous. Yet the man paid to watch Keating left him off alone at the home of a disabled woman, where Keating allegedly tried to initiate unwanted sexual contact.
Josh Stevens is also supposed to be under constant supervision, because the state thinks he's a dangerous arsonist, even though he's never been arrested. The state Division of Developmental Disabilities placed him in a home to protect him and the community. But Stevens ended up a victim, sexually molested by his housemate.
Tim Cowen was supposed to be watched for 24 hours a day, because he was so aggressive. But a worker allowed Cowen to hop on his bike in the middle of the night. Six hours later, he was found dead in a park, beaten to death with a baseball bat.
These are three faces of the state's fledgling Community Protection program, an experiment that tries to protect the public from developmentally disabled people who are also considered dangerous, such as sex offenders, arsonists or people prone to violence.
The $18.4 million state program, one result of the push to improve the lives of the disabled by moving them out of institutions, is having serious problems. Critics allege the program violates people's civil rights and raises questions about how society treats its most vulnerable.
These residents, mostly men, live in family homes in neighborhoods across the state. But these homes have alarms and locks, and these residents are not supposed to leave without supervision, provided mainly by for-profit companies.
Only 206 people are in Community Protection. But the program will probably grow: As more people with developmental disabilities move out of institutions, out of mental hospitals or out of prison, this is the only option for many.
They will enter a program facing numerous controversies:
Placement in Community Protection homes isn't truly voluntary, critics say. If people don't agree to be in the program, they often lose all money and services from the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The restrictions last as long as the state believes the people are dangerous. There is no graduation plan from Community Protection.
Supervision is sometimes lax, records show. Workers in some homes receive as little as 12 hours of training. They are often paid less than $10 an hour, and one staff person is often responsible for keeping track of two or three residents. Several crimes have been committed in these homes. Between January and July of this year, at least 36 escapes were reported.
The program often mixes dangerous developmentally disabled people with vulnerable ones, and women sometimes live with men, according to state records. In some cases, sexual predators have molested other residents.
The homes are not seen as institutions, so they are not licensed by the state and therefore not inspected very often.
The homes operate below the public's radar: Many lawmakers don't know about them. Neighbors are often unaware. Even the parents of people in the program don't always know their adult children have been designated as dangerous.
"This is a new program, and we are struggling with it," said Joyce Duran, who oversees the Community Protection program for the Division of Developmental Disabilities, a DSHS branch.
Answer to a fatal arson
Community Protection started as the state's answer to people like Betty June Antus, a woman diagnosed with mental retardation and a personality disorder. She set fires when she was upset. She stole. She acted out sexually.
People like Antus used to be warehoused, sent to institutions to live out their lives behind walls and fences. But after a long fight over inhumane treatment, many people with developmental disabilities started leaving institutions in the late '70s. Some moved home. Some moved out on their own. Some moved to group homes and adult family homes.
Antus lived in institutions, on the street and in a private residential program.
In 1992, Antus started a fire, because she was jealous of a roommate on her birthday. She was sentenced to 144 days in jail. After she was released, Antus pinballed from home to home, hospital to hospital, finally landing in an adult family home in North Seattle that was supposed to watch her 24 hours a day.
Almost three weeks later, in June 1996, Antus set another fire. No caregiver was home. This time, two residents died. Antus was later sentenced to 21 years and five months in prison.
So DSHS created Community Protection in 1997. Lawmakers never debated it. Instead, the Division of Developmental Disabilities earmarked money for a new program with goals that no one could argue with.
In Community Protection, the state pays private organizations to watch residents around the clock.
It costs $80,000 a year - about $225 a day - to watch a single resident. That's more than three times the cost of keeping someone in prison. But it's nearly $50,000 cheaper than keeping someone in an institution for the developmentally disabled.
State Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, represents the district where Antus lived. After the fire, she asked the state about how it planned to protect the public from dangerous people with developmental disabilities. She said the Division of Developmental Disabilities never responded, never told her when it launched Community Protection.
Fairley, who often criticizes DSHS, was outraged when she learned what was happening with people in Community Protection.
"We're paying that $80,000 so people won't get hurt," Fairley said. "That's the bottom line, isn't it? Well obviously it hasn't worked, and we have in essence thrown that money away."
Officials with the Division of Developmental Disabilities and the contracting organizations say they try to balance the rights of residents with protecting the community.
But the Community Protection program strains under its sometimes contradictory missions: restricting its potentially dangerous residents, while following the state's goal of fostering independence among the developmentally disabled and keeping them in the community.
"We are really trying to improve the program and make it a viable program for folks," Duran said. "Because if this isn't a viable program, what is?"
Even the program's critics have no easy answer for that.
No appeal process
State workers hold enormous sway in deciding who qualifies for Community Protection.
For almost six years, Timothy Farafontoff lived in the Fircrest School for the developmentally disabled in North Seattle, one of the state institutions that has steadily moved people into the community.
He just turned 29. He has Down syndrome. Until this June, Farafontoff had never been arrested, had never been charged with a crime, but he had been violent when upset. Once, he was caught engaging in a consensual sexual activity with another Fircrest resident. His mother, Wendy Frost, and workers at Fircrest say he had done well there, better than in any other living situation.
But Farafontoff was slotted in June for the Community Protection program, although it's unclear exactly why. People in the program are culled from the streets, from mental hospitals, from behind bars, from institutions, from adult family homes, from their own homes.
At the end of June, Farafontoff was moved from Fircrest to a single-family home with a housemate, a typical Community Protection home. After Farafontoff moved into his new home, his pictures were confiscated by staff. Some were of him as a baby, his mother said. But the program thought they might be sexual.
Within the first week, he was arrested twice and thrown in jail for hitting and kicking workers.
"It's rotten," Frost said. "It was a dirty move they made. And they confused and messed up Tim's life. He doesn't know what to do."
But there was nothing Farafontoff or Frost could do. There is no appeal process for people pegged as dangerous.
A case manager in the Division of Developmental Disabilities decides who belongs in Community Protection.
Some people pegged for Community Protection are obvious candidates. They may have been convicted of a crime of sexual violence or served time for murdering someone. Some have been charged with crimes but deemed incompetent to stand trial. Judges have ordered others to participate in Community Protection as an alternative to jail.
Some have fondled small children, according to state records. One made Molotov cocktails. One man admitted to sexually accosting 200 women and raping 10 of them. One talked about killing small children and drinking their blood, according to state records.
In such cases, Community Protection, when it works, seems appropriate. But one of the state's criteria in identifying candidates for the program is "other," which includes "any behavior, which the case manager may feel places a danger to the person or others."
So some people in the program have no history of any offense whatsoever. Others might need help - but not necessarily this program. One 18-year-old resident, a victim of sexual and physical abuse as a child, is described as "has humor, likes to help." But there's nothing else, according to state records. "Real nice guy, but is addicted to drugs & alcohol," stated another person's offense description.
Once enrolled in Community Protection, a person with developmental disabilities or a legal guardian often has little choice: Take the program or cope without any state help. Fighting enrollment is just not financially possible for most families.
Still, DSHS officials emphasize that people enter Community Protection voluntarily.
But critics of the program say it, in effect, places people under house arrest for something they might do in the future.
"We do have people out there who are essentially under involuntary commitment," said Ed Holen, the executive director of the Developmental Disabilities Council, a federally mandated watchdog agency. "They haven't been charged. They haven't been prosecuted. That's not fair. And it certainly violates the person's civil rights."
Recipes for trouble
Many of the smaller companies are housing people enrolled in the Community Protection program with people who aren't, sometimes blending known sexual predators with severely disabled people.
Some of the companies have housed men and women together, according to state records, which has led to predictable problems: A man in a Spokane program grabbed his female housemate's breast and exposed himself, for example.
Some of the companies blend low-functioning people designated for Community Protection with aggressive residents. The results, on occasion, have been disastrous.
Josh Stevens is 27, but he looks like a kid, standing 5 feet 1 inch tall. He has Down syndrome, and he doesn't say much. He gives a thumbs-up to mean "yes." He sometimes steals. Three years ago, Stevens most likely started a fire in his adult family home, burning his bed and his hands.
He wasn't charged with a crime, and the state even let him return home. Brent Wilson, who with his wife ran the adult family home, said Stevens is a sweet guy who wouldn't hurt anyone.
But last year, the state placed Stevens into the Community Protection program, against the wishes of Wilson and of Stevens' father.
"It's so unfair to Josh," said Gene Stevens, his father. "That's the thing that sticks in my craw. He deserves to be where he was, where he was happy. He doesn't deserve this."
Josh Stevens was placed in a home with a high-functioning, aggressive 19-year-old.
In July, the teenager admitted to molesting Stevens at least once, and probably three times, according to a state incident report and agency records.
After this, locks were placed on the doors. Stevens' housemate was moved to another home with a housemate who is "physically bigger and more verbal than Joshua, and is therefore seen as less vulnerable than Joshua," according to a July 8 letter from the company to the state.
Staff stretched thin
Many companies keep only one or two workers in a home at a time, to watch over up to four residents. If one resident has to go to the dentist, a worker often takes other residents along. If one resident escapes, the lone worker has to call for backup before going on a search.
The state requires staff only to be 18 and pass a criminal background check. A high-school degree or GED is required, though sometimes companies get exemptions from the state for that requirement.
Some of the largest companies' manuals promise only 12 hours of training before putting a new worker in a house with developmentally disabled people. These same workers are the last line of defense for a program that is supposed to protect the community. They are expected to read and understand complicated treatment plans and therapy rules for the residents. They are supposed to make critical decisions about how to defuse tense situations and when to call the police.
These workers make as little as $8.20 an hour, about $1.70 more an hour than an entry-level person at McDonald's. The state's largest companies make workers live in the homes for seven days at a time, and they don't get paid for the eight hours at night they are supposedly sleeping.
"You get so exhausted," said Danielle Schmidt, whose former job at the Midstream agency included supervising a home with two Community Protection residents. "Your job is so hard. It makes sense to go work at McDonald's instead."
In their state evaluations, companies complain of staff turnover rates of 50 percent. With today's booming economy, the companies are looking everywhere for new blood: Washington Mentor offered a $50 bonus last spring to current workers who could find new workers. Aacres/Allvest, now the largest Community Protection company in the state, ran a classified ad, asking potential hires, "Tired of warehouse work?"
Incident reports filed by companies also highlight spotty supervision.
One resident left his home near Spokane and somehow ended up at the Spokane International Airport, where he made a bomb threat.
Tim Cowen, the Spokane man who left his home on his bike in the middle of the night and was subsequently beaten to death, told a worker he was leaving, according to a state incident report. But no one followed.
The man paid to watch over sex offender Mark Keating drove him from his Shoreline home to a home near Kirkland where a woman with developmental disabilities lived. According to a state incident report, Keating allegedly tried to initiate unwanted sexual contact. A police report says the worker stayed outside in his car. He was later suspended for three days by his employer, Walsh & Associates, which called him an "outstanding" staff member, according to the incident report.
Keating found the 35-year-old woman in her room, listening to music.
"I couldn't believe it," said Lindi Petzoldt, Keating's aunt. "My mouth fell open. I don't understand why he was left alone."
The programs are also hiring female staff, despite the presence of sex offenders. Ken Frost was charged in April with fourth-degree assault for attacking a woman who worked in his Marysville adult family home. The homeowner then wrote a memo to the state division saying she was looking for an apartment for Frost and for "staff to be ALL male."
Frost pleaded guilty in June, and he was placed in Community Protection in Mount Vernon. A 25-year-old woman was hired to work in his home. Last month, Frost was charged with assault for allegedly attacking the woman. At the time, she was responsible for watching three male residents.
"If he's supposed to be a sex predator, I would say he's not in a safe place if he lives with young girls," said Florence Frost, his mother. "If he's such a threat to the community, what is he doing having this young girl watching him?"
DSHS doesn't advertise the Community Protection program. The names of residents and their histories are confidential. Even their addresses are confidential. Workers aren't supposed to tell anyone about the program, according to most company guidelines.
And companies haven't reported everything that goes wrong to the state, although they're supposed to. One company didn't report three cases of possible resident abuse, one involving a sexual incident between a resident and a doctor, according to the program's evaluation.
Another company didn't tell the state that a worker stole 60 pills of Ritalin from residents. The woman, who said she wanted to lose weight, was never charged with a crime.
Neighbors don't get told about the homes, unless a resident is a serious sex offender. But according to the state, only 11 of the program's registered sex offenders are dangerous enough to require community notification.
Even then, neighbors aren't told the full nature of the program. They're only told that a serious sex offender lives nearby.
State officials say confidentiality is crucial: In one city, local government found out about the program and wanted to boot residents out of town. "That's very concerning to us," said Timothy Brown, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities.
Several parents of people in the program say they don't know the people their children are living with, and they don't know who else is in the program. Most had no idea what "Community Protection" meant.
And parents don't always know when something goes wrong.
Rex Garrett, the executive director of Aacres/Allvest, the state's largest Community Protection company, said parents are supposed to be told about problems.
In a July 8 letter from the company to the state, Aacres/Allvest said, it told Stevens' father what had happened to Josh Stevens, the man with Down syndrome who was molested by his housemate.
But Gene Stevens said he was told that his son and housemate were found in bed together with their clothes on. Gene Stevens said he was told that nothing threatening happened.
On a recent Friday, Gene Stevens found out from a reporter what had happened. He was already upset, after picking up Josh for the day. His son looked a mess: His hair was unkempt, his fingernails and toenails were so long they could have been weapons, and he hadn't been shaved in weeks.
Then Gene Stevens found out his son had been abused, and he started doing a slow burn and some quick calculating, adding up the reason his son called so much in early July. But, at the time, no one could understand what Josh was saying.
"There's going to be some real fallout from this," Gene Stevens said. "It's the final straw for me. It never should've come to this for Josh."
Both Gene Stevens and his wife, Lenora, gave The Seattle Times permission to use their son's name and photograph. "I want people to know what happened to him," Gene Stevens said.
Going through a rocky period
When residents do act up, the contractors sometimes have little recourse. Convicted arsonist Kail Boggs left his Federal Way home without permission at least 14 times between March and July. Once, while Boggs was gone, an arson was reported six blocks away.
Finally Boggs, who said last January that he couldn't stop making fires, was kicked out of the program. Now he's on his own.
"I'm trying to provide a 24-hour supervision program for dangerous people with developmental disabilities who can leave whenever they want to," said Brown of the Division of Developmental Disabilities. "Wow. That's a contradiction."
The Community Protection program is going through a rocky period, said Joyce Duran, who supervises it for the state division.
A cross-section of case managers will soon meet and discuss ways to improve the program.
The division is trying to redefine how people are selected for Community Protection, Duran said. She also said it's trying to improve how it evaluates companies under contract to watch over the disabled.
The Division of Developmental Disabilities is also struggling with its future.
Money and new placements are tough to come by. New group homes are rarely built. Institutions such as the Fircrest School and Rainier School, places that have traditionally taken the most difficult people with developmental disabilities, are now releasing residents who've been with them for years.
Western State Hospital, a mental institution, has turned into the default institution for the developmentally disabled. But the hospital is facing a class-action lawsuit, demanding more appropriate placements.
But there's not a lot of money. Since 1992, the amount of state money available per client has declined by 25 percent, when adjusted for inflation.
And the state case managers have become crisis managers - responsible for keeping track of 119 people at one time, on average. They decide which person might be in danger, or which person might pose a danger.
The national average is about one case manager for every 40 people, said Robin Cooper, of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, which did a national workload study last year. Washington was the worst state of the 35 that responded.
"Washington definitely got the black star," Cooper said. "They were at the top."
For the developmentally disabled who are judged as dangerous, DSHS says, Community Protection is the only resource in the community. It is one of the few programs that has had its budget boosted.
Gov. Gary Locke, who knows about Community Protection and signed off on budget increases, sees the program as a balancing act.
"He is not a micromanager," said David Chai, a Locke spokesman. "He is fully confident the people in the community and the field are carrying out the principles, to make sure we're doing everything we can to make sure communities are safe and at the same time, making sure we're respecting the individual rights of citizens."
Advocates and some parents praise the idea of Community Protection as a better alternative than institutions or jail. But they say the workers need more training and more money.
State Sen. Fairley thinks the money spent on Community Protection would be well spent, if the program worked. She said the program should be examined.
"In this case, trying is not good enough," she said. "You pay that kind of money, you want to make sure people don't get hurt."
Copyright © 1999 The Seattle Times Company