LIVONIA, Mich. - Nine staff members have been charged in connection with the physical abuse of three mental health patients in Livonia.
The alleged abuse took place at the Detroit-Wayne County Health Authority's COPE (community outreach for psychiatric emergencies) facility. Nine employees are involved in the case. Six of them are accused of either assaulting patients, strangling them or both.
Those defendants are Wynton Dixon, Demetris Hunt, Kyle Jackson, Thomas May, Victor Peterson and Delvan Johnson. Peterson was a late add by prosecutors. When asked about his bond on Thursday, prosecutors spoke up.
"I want to make the court aware that the defendant was recorded on video, so that's why I'm concerned," said the prosecutor.
Johnson was added to the case Friday.
The other three defendants are staff psychiatrist Dr. Hanumaiah Bandla, 64, of West Bloomfield, nurse Erma Owens, 79, of Inkster, and project manager Beth Ellen Sharlow, 51, of Redford Township. They are accused of failing to report the staff members' abuse of the three men.
The investigation started on March 17 when police and firefighters were called to the facility on the report of a fall.
"The officers arrived. The injuries seemed extremely suspicious on how it was explained. We started our investigation from there. And that led us after months of investigation, very extensive to multiple defendants with multiple charges," said Livonia police Capt. Ronald Taig.
The Livonia COPE facility is located along Schoolcraft Road, just west of Farmington Road.
Defendants claim self-defense
None of the accused wanted to talk on camera Wednesday. However, they did say the patients attacked them and their actions were in self-defense. Peterson's wife said the same.
"He's been attacked by the clients so many times ... so COPE is not telling everything that's going on," she said.
Some of the defendants were released, while some had to pay a $1,000 bond.
Here are the nine defendants and the charges against them:
- Thomas May, 59, of Westland, faces one count of vulnerable adult abuse third degree and one count of assault and battery charges.
- Kyle Jackson, 30, of Oak Park, faces assault with intent to do great bodily harm by strangulation, four counts of vulnerable adult abuse third degree, and two counts of assault and battery charges.
- Wynton Dixon, 57, of Detroit, faces faces assault with intent to do great bodily harm by strangulation, two counts of vulnerable adult abuse third degree, and one count of assault and battery charges. Dixon also is charged with failing to report the abuse of a mental health recipient.
- Demetris Hunt, 28, of Wayne, faces one count of vulnerable adult abuse third degree and one count of assault and battery charges. Hunt also is charged with failing to report the abuse of a mental health recipient.
- Victor Peterson, 60, of River Rouge, faces two counts of assault and battery, one count of vulnerable adult abuse third degree, and one count of failure to report the abuse of a mental health recipient.
- Dr. Hanumaiah Bandla, 64, of West Bloomfield, is charged with failing to report the abuse of a mental health recipient.
- Erma Owens, 79, of Inkster, is charged with failing to report the abuse of a mental health recipient.
- Delvan Johnson, 24, of Redford Township, is charged with third-degree vulnerable adult abuse and assault and battery.
- Beth Ellen Sharlow, 51, of Redford Township, is charged with failure to report abuse of a mental health recipient.
COPE staff members fired after incident
Ed Forry, president and CEO of Hegira Programs, Inc., released a statement regarding the allegations:
“Recently, unfortunate incidents occurred at one of our facilities, which led to an investigation that revealed an extreme violation of our standards of care. The individuals in question were terminated as soon as we learned of the incidents in question, and we are fully cooperating with police as their investigation progresses.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for any form of abuse, and the behavior of these former employees does not represent Hegira, our facility or the rest of our dedicated staff.
“Though all our employees undergo regular training and assessment, in light of this incident, we have fully audited our processes and have conducted additional re-training sessions. In our nearly half century of serving Michigan, this is the first time an incident of this nature has happened, and we are determined to ensure that it never happens again.”
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