Suit filed in alleged ‘fight club’ at school for mentally handicapped

Six current or former school employees face criminal charges in connection with the alleged fights.
A Texas woman claims in a lawsuit her 21-year-old son has suffered emotional trauma from being forced to participate in alleged "fight clubs" at a state school for mentally handicapped adults.

Inez Hernandez, mother of Armando Hernandez Jr., filed the suit Wednesday against the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, according to a statement from the office of her attorney, Robert Hilliard. Police have alleged that workers at the Corpus Christi State School were staging a “fight club” among residents, encouraging them to physically battle one another. A cell phone containing videos of the alleged abuse was turned over to police earlier this month. It contained 20 videos going back about a year, featuring the school’s “clients,” who are severely mentally handicapped, Corpus Christi police Capt. Tim Wilson told CNN. Six current or former school employees face criminal charges in connection with the alleged fights, Wilson said Thursday. Five of them face a third-degree felony charge of injury to a disabled person, punishable upon conviction by two to 10 years in prison. The sixth faces a lesser degree of the same charge, punishable by up to two years behind bars. While that person was not an active participant in the alleged fights, Wilson said, she is accused of failing to stop the activity or reporting it. According to the suit, Armando Hernandez, who was a resident of the Corpus Christi State School in Corpus Christi, Texas, from April 2007 through April 2008, “suffered physical injuries and continues to suffer emotional trauma after being forced by supervisors to participate in the fights,” the statement from Hilliard said. Hernandez’s personal injuries included “severe humiliation, degradation and ongoing mental anguish,” the attorney said. “These special-needs residents are some of the most vulnerable and fragile members of our community,” Hilliard said in the statement. “To think that the protectors of their welfare were turning them into tools for their own sick entertainment makes my blood boil. I put this at the feet of the agency itself.”

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Cecelia Fedorov, spokeswoman for the Department of Aging and Disability Services, said she had received Hilliard’s statement on Thursday but the agency had not been notified of any lawsuit. A total of 11 employees were identified on the video, Fedorov told CNN. Four were former employees, and seven were employees at the time. Those seven had been placed on paid leave, but all have since been terminated, she said. After the allegations surfaced, the department said it was installing video cameras and hiring security officers. In addition, it said, it was suspending admissions to the school and increasing supervision of night shifts at the school, and that state school representatives would be making random, unannounced inspection during evening and overnight shifts. “As I have said many times to you, these citizens do not simply live where you work,” said an open letter to employees from department Commissioner Adelaide Horn, posted on the department’s Web site. “You have the privilege of working in their homes.” Hilliard said he has filed a subpoena seeking to gain access to the cell phone videos.