Beating the system

Employees still collect paychecks years after beating disabled patient in state facility

PHOTO BY WHITNEY CURTIS, PROPUBLICA
Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in rural Anna, Illinois, was built more than 150 years ago.

Should it take more than eight years to fire state employees involved in the beating of a disabled patient in an Illinois state facility?

It's a question that begs to be asked in the wake of an investigation conducted by several news organizations: Capitol News Illinois, Lee Enterprises and ProPublica.

Here is the set up for the investigation:

"As Blaine Reichard rose from a breakfast table at the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in southern Illinois, a worker ordered him to pull up his sagging pants.

A 24-year-old man with developmental disabilities, Reichard was accustomed to workers at the state-run residential facility telling him what to do. But this time he didn't obey. 

'I'm a gangsta! This is how we do it where I am from!' responded Reichard, who, despite his street-tough defiance, still slept with a teddy bear.

Multiple witnesses told the Illinois State Police that shortly after this exchange, Reichard was taken to the floor, held down by four mental health techs and repeatedly punched in the face.

One of the employees has pleaded guilty to a felony and the three others have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. But almost eight years after the beating, none have been fired or disciplined in the workplace.

None.

According to the investigation, "After pleading guilty, the three (misdemeanants) returned to work at Choate, mowing lawns, cooking or doing laundry. About three years ago, their status returned to administrative leave. They no longer do any work at Choate, but they still receive a state paycheck today. Since the incident, taxpayers have paid the trio more than $1 million combined. Their annual salaries range between $50,000 and $54,000, IDHS records show."

Will they be fired? Well, the state is still considering the matter – eight years after the beating. Eight years.

Molly Parker, one of the investigative reporters involved in the case, said the union representing the employees got them bumped to paid administrative leave – rather than keeping them working at the center in positions where they were not in contact with patients, while awaiting a decision on whether they should be disciplined.

Oh, and by the way, these men are still receiving health insurance benefits and credit toward their pensions.

Is anyone advocating for the taxpayers who are paying these men to do nothing? It would appear not.

As for the lone felon in the group, he was suspended without pay when he was charged in 2016 and he remained on the state payroll during the 15-month period between the time of the incident and the time he was charged, collecting nearly $56,000 while on administrative leave.

Public employees are often called to do challenging work. Whether it's teaching a classroom of third-graders, writing speeding tickets, incarcerating criminals or caring for developmentally delayed people in state institutions, most do what is asked of them.

But how do we address those who violate the rules and bring harm to those in their care?

Accountability is lacking. Some point their fingers at a bureaucracy that moves at a slug's pace. Others blame union contracts that they say make punishing bad employees difficult.

I'm not going to weigh in on why accountability is lacking – only that it is.

And few in public office are doing anything to better hold bad employees to account.

See the article "Brutal beatings, abuse plague state-run mental health facility, investigation reveals," on p. 7.

About The Author

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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