Video raises questions over care of mentally disabled adults at Damar residences

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Surveillance video from Brandon Goodwin’s home in Decatur Township shows a mentally disabled adult man walking barefoot, with no coat and an adult diaper placed on the outside of his clothing.

It’s 6 a.m. on May 8.

Overnight, temperatures had dropped into the 30s.

The man can be seen opening the door to Goodwin’s wife’s SUV. He climbs in before exiting and trying to open the door to Goodwin’s home.

The man isn’t a robber, a thief or a prowler.

He’s Brandon’s neighbor.

“It’s disturbing to see someone who has a mental disability out running the streets at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Goodwin told I-Team 8. “He didn’t have a jacket on, no shoes. He did have an adult diaper on, but he didn’t know where he was at.”

The incident and the surveillance video capturing it are raising questions about the quality of care being provided to members of this fragile population. Neighbors tell I-Team 8 that it’s also a strong representation of a long-standing pattern of behavior in the Decatur Township area, where adults with mental disabilities walk away from their residential homes and the Damar Services caretakers tasked with supervising them.

Since late 2013, Indianapolis police reports reviewed by I-Team 8 show that officers have made 23 reports for assaults, trouble runs, missing persons and mental health investigations at five separate addresses in the Decatur Township area where Damar Services caregivers reside with mentally challenged adults. The types of care and needs can vary per client, Damar officials note, and clients are able to come and go as they please.

But on one street, police have responded 11 times this year to deal with the same mentally challenged adult male. Most of the runs involving that person are missing persons reports called in by his caretakers. But in one instance, the man called police to tell them his caretaker had assaulted him. The caretaker denied the accusation. In two other reports, that same mentally challenged adult is named on the reports from two assault cases at a nearby McDonald’s.

The total police report figures do not include the countless runs in which officers from IMPD’s southwest district do not file a report, police officials tell I-Team 8.

One report notes that this is “an ongoing issue.”

“Over the past few years, IMPD officers have recovered numerous” mentally-challenged Damar clients “who have left their residence without the knowledge of staffing,” reads one police report from Feb. 16. “Most are located entering other citizens’ residences, walking down the street near the woods, inside local establishments and other instances. The situations are not isolated to one event.”

Neighbors and police tell I-Team 8 that they are frustrated by what they feel is a lack of response from Damar Services, which provides caretakers, case managers and life skills resources to roughly 140 mentally challenged adults.

When asked directly about if his staffers were failing to supervise the clients, Damar President and CEO Jim Dalton said: “It’s important that you understand – that everyone understands – that supervision of caring is different than holding people outside of their choice. That is something we cannot do. That’s one challenge I have had personally – most people say ‘Dr. Dalton just don’t let them out of their homes.’ And that is something we simply cannot do.”

Dalton went on to explain that the clients that Damar serves are free to come and go as they please. Damar doesn’t own the homes, and the residents cannot be locked or restrained in their own homes. But I-Team 8 noticed at least one house with Damar staffers where the door knob had been removed. When a reporter tried to question the Damar staffer about complaints from neighbors that clients had been leaving and walking into other people’s homes, the staffer said he was not allowed to be interviewed.

“There are limits to what we can do. If we wanted to remove an individual that we serve, we are not allowed to do that. I think the more we understand the rights of this population, this important population, the more they understand the frustrations that many of us have,” Dr. Dalton said.

Neighbors grow weary 

In the few years that Goodwin has lived in his home with his wife and young daughter, he says he has contacted police four times about a mentally disabled adult trying to enter his home.

“We’ve had numerous accounts with them. They’ve came in the garage, they try to get in through our windows, they try to get the doors open. It never stops it seems.”

Goodwin says after his first interaction with a Damar client, Goodwin said he installed security cameras and added a privacy fence.

A police report obtained by I-Team 8 from February notes that Goodwin told officers that he has a firearm and that he was worried that a Damar client “might walk in a home and get shot.”

“I don’t want that at all,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to carry that on their shoulders, but it seems like it’s not going to end good for somebody,” Goodwin said.

Another Decatur township resident, Robert Bucek, told I-Team 8 he’s seen police called repeatedly to his neighborhood on reports of a mentally disabled man walking away.

“If you’ve got police cars, ambulances, fire trucks and that off and on two, four, five times a month. You get tired of it,” Bucek said.

Bucek even said he didn’t feel like they should live in a residential area. When a reporter pointed out that institutionalized care for these individuals is an outdated model, Bucek said: “I don’t care if it’s outdated or not. That’s the way I feel, and I feel like there are other neighbors who feel the same way.”

Don’t count Jeanne Sherry in that group. Sherry moved to Indianapolis from Colorado. She said she too has had an encounter with a mentally challenged adult on her street. She found him one day standing in her house, surrounded by her dogs.

“I just said you’ve got the wrong house, let’s go over here,” she said, adding that she hopes neighbors’ concerns won’t prompt the facility to shut down or move.

But other neighbors are growing weary or at least expressed concerns to I-Team 8 that the residential environment might not be best for everyone’s needs.

Dalton said institutionalized care is over.

“It may seem odd or aytypical, but their motives are not criminal or anything like that. I would certainly regret if there are any neighbors who think that Damar has not been responsive.”

Prompting action 

(Provided Photo/Decatur Township resident)

I-Team 8’s investigation is already prompting action. Damar Services is reviewing the incident involving the man with an adult diaper who was left unattended. And fliers have been sent out to neighbors alerting them to three public meetings in an effort to engage in a community discussion about what roles neighbors, police and Damar Services plays in provide care for this population.

The first of three meetings is set for Saturday, May 20, at 11 a.m. at the Damar campus at 6067 Decatur Blvd. in Indianapolis. RSVP is not required.

Two other meetings are slated at the same location for May 23 at noon and May 25 at 6 p.m.

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