Family Seeks Answers in Alleged Assault at Chelmsford Group Home
CHELMSFORD -- Before the 50-year-old cognitively disabled, non-verbal man was allegedly struck in the head by caretakers in the group home, there was the “fall.”
That’s at least how staff members at Northeast Residential Services described a previous incident to the family of Paul Stanizzi, who suffered severe injuries during that October episode and ended up in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Those injuries included a broken neck, nose and lacerations on his face. He had a trach in his throat so he could breathe, and he was in medically-induced coma for a few weeks.
“They keep saying he fell out of bed, but he never did,” says his mother, Ruth, who placed video cameras in his room after the October episode. “He couldn’t have gotten hurt that bad by falling.”
Now in the wake of another incident, which led to the arrests of two former employees who allegedly hit Stanizzi, his family is speaking out about the group home, located at 1 Harding St. in Chelmsford.
Ruth is alleging a pattern of abuse at the Northeast Residential Services group home.
“They were getting away with it,” she said of the October incident, ahead of a March 26 pretrial conference for the two former employees who allegedly struck her son over a period of time in the home.
“Police need to dig a lot deeper,” Ruth added.
Officials from Northeast Residential Services did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Daniel Maina, 41, of Tyngsboro, and Jennifer Nganga, 60, of Lowell, have each been charged with assault and battery on a disabled person, and abuse by a caretaker.
The abuse was captured on camera, according to prosecutors. Police reviewed the videos of the defendants hitting the victim in the head and pushing his head into a pillow.
“The evidence gathered during the investigation showed a clear pattern of physical abuse against a victim who could not defend himself or report his abuse at the hands of the very people charged with his care and well-being,” Chelmsford Police Chief James Spinney said in a statement.
Defense attorneys argued that the man did not suffer any injuries, and there were no signs of bruising on his head. Nganga’s lawyer also said that Nganga simply assisted the man in-and-out of bed, and did not punch the individual.
The state Department of Developmental Services oversees the home. Prior to being hired by the Department of Developmental Services, both Maina and Nganga underwent background checks, and were fingerprinted in compliance with federal regulation. Both employees passed their background checks and had no disciplinary action in their employee records before the alleged incident.
“The Department of Developmental Services was deeply disturbed to learn of these horrible allegations and has a zero tolerance policy for abuse and neglect of individuals in its care,” a spokesperson for the department said in a statement. “Immediately upon being notified of the allegations DDS opened an investigation, and terminated the employees.
“Additional precautionary steps have been taken including placing the employees’ supervisor and other group home staff on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation,” the spokesperson added. “DDS has also increased monitoring of the home and the overnight shift. Nursing staff have evaluated the other residents to ensure that they are safe and healthy. DDS has secured staff from other locations to staff the home.”
Chelmsford police continues to conduct a thorough investigation of any abuse that happened in the group home, said Deputy Chief Dan Ahern.
In addition, the state Disabled Persons Protection Commission is looking into the Harding Street home, confirmed Assistant General Counsel Andrew Levrault. The investigator will be considering “any systemic factors” over the course of the probe, he said.
The October incident has been referred to the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.
After her son suffered severe injuries in October and ended up in the hospital, Ruth said she was concerned about sending him back to the group home. However, officials at the home assured her they would implement safety procedures to prevent injuries.
The family placed cameras in her son’s room to make sure everything was on the surface.
Not long after they installed the cameras, the family witnessed caretakers hitting Paul on the side of the head.
“We want all group homes throughout the state to have cameras everywhere,” Ruth said. “It’s a safety issue.”
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.