Oklahoma Department of Human Services director Deb Shropshire apologized Wednesday to families of victims with intellectual disabilities who suffered what a police officer called “systematic caretaker abuse” at an Enid center.
Law enforcement agencies are continuing to investigate the allegations, which were first reported to DHS back in April. But the incidents could have been ongoing for at least a year before that.
“The details emerging about the allegations are truly horrific to hear and absolutely unacceptable,” Shropshire said.
Six men from Enid were charged last month with caretaker abuse at the Robert M. Greer Center in Enid. Allegations of abuse include using a bedsheet to choke a resident who has the mental capacity of a 4-year-old and bribing one resident with food to beat another resident, according to affidavits filed in Garfield County District Court.
In the affidavits, an Enid detective said investigations by the police and DHS took time because allegations were difficult to substantiate, as Greer Center staff were not cooperating and the victims were either nonverbal, severely developmentally delayed, or both.
Enid police Detective Frank Bruno said a Greer Center employee reported abuse to a unit program manager, “But he had refused to listen.”
On Wednesday, however, Shropshire said DHS’ Office of Client Advocacy, which investigates reports of abuse and neglect against those being served by the agency in residential and community placements, “did not have difficulty getting staff or other witnesses to be interviewed for their investigation.”
“Part of the ongoing investigation may be to the accuracy of some of the information that was provided, but we had not had any challenge of getting staff to participate in interviews,” she said.
But a former staff member who reported allegations of abuse was granted protective orders against former coworkers after someone posted fliers this summer across Enid that featured her photo, phone number and suggestions that she was available for sexual encounters, according to reporting by Kayla Branch of The Frontier. A Garfield County judge granted all four emergency orders of protection.
Shropshire said investigations into the abuse allegations at the Greer Center are ongoing, a statement echoed Wednesday by an Enid Police Department spokesman, who said more charges are possible.
“In a case like this with these types of victims, it takes a little bit more time,” said Cass Rains, Enid Police Department’s public information coordinator. “I understand that DHS has said that they had suspended some or terminated others, but our burden of proof is quite a bit higher to get those charges levied in a court of law.”
Shrophsire met with reporters Wednesday for the first time since charges were filed last month. She said her agency’s focus has been “to secure the safety of everyone at the Greer Center,” a contracted residential treatment facility for adults who are dually diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and co-occurring mental illness and/or severe behavioral challenges.
She said 50 residents live at the 52-bed facility, which is the only one of its kind in the state. New admissions have been halted.
Since 2000, the Greer Center has been operated and managed by Liberty of Oklahoma Corporation, which is affiliated with Liberty Healthcare Corporation, a private, for-profit company based in Pennsylvania. Liberty also has contracts with the state to manage two facilities for youth with developmental disabilities and to end the state’s years-long waitlist for developmental disability services.
“Our immediate effort has really been around ensuring the safety of those residents and trying to better understand through the course of the investigations of what actually happened,” Shropshire said. “In doing that, we will be working Liberty closely to ensure the terms set out in the contract are followed.”
Families of five residents at the Greer Center have requested to be moved, she said. The Greer Center is not a long-term facility, but rather “a place where they’re going for a period of time to receive treatment.”
“As that treatment helps improve things, then they move on to another setting,” Shropshire said.
She said she wanted victims’ families to know that her agency realizes their trust has been violated.
“I am incredibly sorry this happened, and we are here to walk beside you in this traumatic and heart-wrenching situation. We are working relentlessly with everyone involved to ensure the situation is remediated to protect the Greer Center’s residents,” Shropshire said. “You have my word that Oklahoma Human Services will do everything in its power to ensure that the Oklahomans we serve are safe.”
‘Organized pattern of abuse and deception’
Shropshire said the first reports of abuse at the Greer Center were made in April, claiming that OCA investigated reports of abuse and followed statutory requirements to notify law enforcement of its investigation at the center.
Several investigations by OCA were underway, she said. All were thought to be individual incidents until a Greer Center employee contacted Enid police in late October.
“The investigation then uncovered what appears to be an organized pattern of abuse and deception by a small group of Liberty employees, which led to criminal charges,” Shropshire said.
Liberty employs more than 170 people at the Greer Center, according to the company.
“They have many, many employees providing direct care to clients there who are not involved in this at all,” she said. “It was a small group of employees who were involved.”
Some OCA inquiries remain ongoing and are being conducted in cooperation with the Enid Police Department’s investigations, she said. There are also investigations underway from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Disability Law Center. Liberty is also conducting its own investigation.
Asked why DHS did not contact law enforcement after it first received allegations, Shropshire said that question is under review.
“There are different entities that have different roles in investigating complaints and there are also (…) policies that say a certain entity receives an investigation, here is their approach to notifying law enforcement,” she said. “All of those roles and policies — what has happened as well as what did happen — in the future are part of what we’re trying to understand and also (…) should there be adjustments made.”
Liberty also is working on “a comprehensive remediation plan” to address the problems at the Greer Center, Shropshire said.
She said other actions taken include:
- Eight staff members connected to the allegations have been terminated by Liberty;
- Four staff members have been suspended, and the Greer Center administrator has resigned;
- DHS has placed developmental disabilities services staff at the Greer Center for monitoring 24 hours a day, seven days a week;
- Liberty has members of its corporate leadership team on site daily;
- Liberty is sending a daily report to DHS that includes any new allegations of maltreatment as well as information about any new staff members and confirmation of their screening and credentials;
- DHS has provided refresher training about reporting abuse and neglect to Liberty staff at the Greer Center; and
- A licensed professional counselor has been contracted to offer trauma counseling and therapeutic services to residents and their families.
Sue Nayda, chief operating officer of Liberty of Oklahoma Corporation, issued a statement saying the company is working with DHS and OCA on their investigations.
“Liberty of Oklahoma Corporation considers the allegations of abuse of residents by certain former staff at the Greer Center to be intolerable,” Nayda said. “We appreciate the dedication and professionalism of Oklahoma Human Services, Office of Client Advocacy, and the Enid Police Department over the past month. We also appreciate our current dedicated staff members who continue to care for our residents. We continue to evaluate processes and personnel and reinforce our training and reporting procedures.”
Greer center abuse was ‘systematic and coordinated’
The six Enid men charged in connection to Greer Center abuse are Jonathan Martinez, 21; Jonathan Colon Orozco, 28; Edward Russell Webster; 51; Gavin Foster, 26; Jhon Alan Nieto, 24; and Adlai Flores, 21.
Martinez and Nieto are charged with two counts of abuse by caretaker and conspiracy. Webster and Foster are charged with one count of abuse by caretaker and conspiracy. Flores is charged with abuse by caretaker and other crimes against public justice. Nieto also is charged with a misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest and obstructing an officer.
Bruno, the Enid police detective, said in affidavits filed in Garfield County District Court against five of the men that he was notified in June by a former Greer Center employee about “ongoing, systematic and coordinated caretaker abuse” at the facility. He said he discovered several of the alleged incidents of caretaker abuse had also been investigated by the Office of Client Advocacy and that several listed the same Greer Center staff members as suspects.
“Several of the investigations could not be substantiated due to the staff at the Greer Center not cooperating and the victims being either nonverbal, severely developmentally delayed, or both,” Bruno wrote.
Three months later, in September, Bruno said he was made aware of a new report regarding caretaker abuse at the Greer Center involving several of the same people who were employed at the time as staff members.
In October, Bruno said Anthony Huhman, an intake and placement coordinator at the Greer Center, told him that residents claimed Martinez, Orozco, Nieto and Webster had abused them by taking either bed sheets or wet towels and wrapping them around a resident’s head “to strangle him until he passed out.” After the resident had passed out, they “would then strike his chest and abdomen repeatedly until he would wake up.”
Bruno said a resident told him that, on one occasion, the former staff members worried they may have “actually killed” him because he was “not waking up.” They grabbed the resident by the back of his head or neck and “threw him into a nearby door headfirst, after which he regained consciousness,” Bruno wrote.
The resident said the abuse occurred after 5 or 6 p.m. when “all the important people are gone by then,” according to Bruno’s affidavit.
Bruno said he discovered that the mother of one of the victims removed the resident from the Greer Center “after several instances of (…) being injured while he lived at the facility.”
A resident and an employee at the Greer Center identified the same men as being the primary abusive staff.
The employee said the men used food from outside the facility to bribe a resident into “beating” another resident regularly, Bruno wrote in an affidavit. The resident who was the subject of the beating was targeted because, the employee said, the resident would “cuss them out” and because “he was prejudiced.” In one instance, the resident’s eye was completely red, and a doctor had been worried about permanent damage to the eye.
The resident had lived at the Greer Center for four years until his mother removed him, Bruno said. The resident told Bruno that Flores had “punched me in the face” and pointed to his nose and said Foster had “choked” him several times by grabbing him from behind as he sat in a chair. He said Nieto and Webster had verbally abused him and had also “destroyed” various items of his items that were in his room at the facility.
Lawsuit filed against Liberty, Greer Center administrators
Attorneys representing a resident at the Greer Center and his mother, identified only as John and Jane Doe, filed a lawsuit Thursday in Oklahoma County District Court against Liberty of Oklahoma and its parent company along with three administrators at the Greer Center during the time the caretaker abuse allegedly occurred.
“The depths of the Greer Center staff’s depravity and the failures of those responsible for overseeing them, including Liberty and the Greer Center administrators, are not yet fully known. But what is known, and is described below, is tragic and can never be allowed to happen again,” the petition states.
Filed by the Nix Patterson law firm and Cameron Spradling, the lawsuit seeks actual, compensatory and punitive damages for a series of allegations.
Named in the suit are:
- Liberty of Oklahoma Corporation and its parent, Liberty Healthcare Corporation,
- Huhman, the intake/placement coordinator at the Greer Center interviewed by police,
- Marc Tatro, identified as a unit program manager at the Greer Center, and
- Hugh Sage, identified as CEO of Liberty of Oklahoma and an executive director of Liberty Healthcare. The lawsuit also identifies Sage as the official administrator of the Greer Center at the time of the allegations.
The lawsuit states John Doe has been a Greer Center resident since May 2020. When he was a child, he was diagnosed with an intellectual disability and he has since been diagnosed with epilepsy, antisocial personality disorder and persistent depressive disorder. When he was admitted to the Greer Center, Huhman allegedly told his mother, who lives in Oklahoma City, that he would likely be at the facility forever, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit lists allegations included in the affidavits filed in Garfield County District Court and states that John Doe was a target of waterboarding and being beaten in the facilitiy’s showers.
“The abuse John Doe endured at the Greer Center was so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, would be considered atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society, and caused severe pain, suffering and emotional distress to John Doe beyond that which a reasonable person could be expected to endure,” the lawsuit states.
(Update: This article was updated at 8:50 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, to include reference to the lawsuit noted above.)