SHERIDAN — A former client of a services agency for people with disabilities was repeatedly sexually molested by a fellow client for months, and staff knew about the abuse but failed to stop it.
That’s according to a lawsuit parents of the victim filed against Rehabilitation Enterprises of North Eastern Wyoming in 2014. The case was originally set for trial in November but could be pushed back if attorneys need more time.
Plaintiffs in the case said their adult son, who has Down syndrome and had lived in RENEW housing since 2001, was forced into sexual contact with a fellow RENEW client on multiple occasions from August 2012 to March 2013. The perpetrator lived in a room neighboring the victim’s room in the same house, and at times shared a bathroom with the victim that was only accessible through the victim’s bedroom.
Parents were not notified of the abuse until March 2013, according to court documents, and when RENEW did move the victim to different housing, the organization initially did not tell the parents it was because their son was being abused.
Case documents show RENEW was aware that the perpetrator had a history of sexual abuse and impulsive behavior toward minors and others unable to consent to sexual contact. The services agency even had a plan written in 2011 — before the perpetrator had abused the victim in this case — to address his behavior and prevent future abuse.
During a hearing in Sheridan County 4th Judicial District Court on Friday, attorney Jon Moyers, who is representing the parents and the victim, stressed the fact that RENEW knew about the perpetrator’s history.
“They put a rattlesnake in a nursery,” he said. “They put a wolf in the hen house.”
Due to the victim’s mental development, the court documents state, he is “incapable of appraising the nature of sexual assault, contact, and/or intrusion.”
Court documents also note that a counselor for the victim had repeatedly notified the victim’s case manager, Richelle Schulz, about conversations she’d had with the victim in which he said he had had sex with another resident, did not like it and did not feel he could say no. At times, he was visibly upset and close to tears.
At one point, the victim told the counselor he did not think he could yell out when the perpetrator came into his room at night because he was not supposed to yell. The victim’s counselor also told Schulz that she believed the victim’s desire to be well-liked and kind to everyone further hampered his ability to speak out.
RENEW requires one staff member to be on site during nights and prohibits that staff member from sleeping during the shift.
Schulz responded to some of the notifications by the counselor to say that RENEW had begun telling the perpetrator to use a different bathroom so he did not have to walk through the victim’s bedroom.
Other steps she said RENEW took were to keep the victim’s door open at night and to install an alarm in his room.
Moyers said Friday that the victim has since been moved to a different housing service that is not run by RENEW but that the new service does not offer the same type of employment opportunities the victim had at RENEW.
RENEW received money from the state of Wyoming and from Medicaid to provide services to the victim. The plaintiffs are asking for compensatory and punitive damages.
RENEW did not immediately respond to The Sheridan Press’ question as to whether Schulz was still employed with the organization.