Pennsylvania care home workers accused of abusing residents

Two men who worked in direct care at a western Pennsylvania residential facility inflicted what a grand jury alleges was “violent, demeaning and humiliating” abuse on people with severe physical and mental disabilities, federal prosecutors said Friday in announcing hate crimes criminal charges.

Zachary Lee Dinell, 28, and Tyler James Smith, 31, are accused of abusing people who are not able to speak to report their injuries and lack the capacity to defend themselves.

Their 12-count indictment issued Wednesday describes that from mid-2016 to about September 2017 residents of McGuire Memorial in New Brighton were punched in the face and head, choked, kicked in the face, jumped on, had caustic substances and other liquids rubbed into their eyes and had liquids sprayed and thrown into their mouths.

Thomas King, McGuire Memorial’s general counsel, said the abuse came to light when police investigating Dinell for another matter found texts and videos on his cellphone. An investigation concluded no others at McGuire were aware or involved, King said.

Four lawsuits by residents or their family members have been settled by the home’s insurer, King said.

“This was a horrible event for everyone involved in McGuire,” King said Friday, noting policies were changed and security cameras installed as a result. “We’re trying to move forward from it.”

Dinell and Smith are charged with concealing material facts about a health care matter, conspiracy and 10 counts of violating the federal hate crimes statute. Neither man has a lawyer listed in the court records, and messages were left for lawyers who have represented them in prior state court proceedings related to the same allegations.

The indictment said the two men encouraged each other.

The grand jury said Dinell told Smith he considered burying one man in the garbage of a trash container and that he had already hurt another resident and was “about to suffocate him.”

The two men, who are both white, used a racial slur to describe Black patients and spoke of killing the people they were paid to help, the jury said.

“He didn’t ask to be born that way,” Dinell allegedly texted Smith about a resident in January 2017. “But here we are sanitizing his eyes and beating him.”

Many of the attacks described by the grand jury were allegedly committed by Dinell and documented in their text exchanges, including “slamming,” “sanitizing his eyes,” spraying ice cold water on a naked resident with hypersensitivity to cold, rubbing liquid irritant into a resident’s eyes, kicking a resident in the head and punching a resident in the head three times with his fist.

Smith, the jury said, was recorded jumping on a 13-year-old resident in bed. He is accused of sending Dinell a photo of a resident with a reddish spot on a sheet near his head that Smith said was the victim’s blood.

Dinell, a former resident of Freedom, Pennsylvania, is currently in state prison. A magistrate judge set Smith’s bail on Wednesday at $25,000. Prosecutors said Smith most recently lived in New Brighton, 44 miles (71 kilometers) northwest of Pittsburgh.

Smith was fired from McGuire in September 2017, Dinell in June 2018, the jury said.

The roughly 50-resident facility is an institution within the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese and is a ministry cosponsored by the Felician Sisters of North America.

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