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Group home beating in ’04 highlights agencies’ hurdles

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Group home beating in ’04 highlights agencies’ hurdles

By Dave Wedge

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The violent 2004 beating of a Dorchester social worker at the hands of a hulking group home resident with a rap sheet sparked a lawsuit that provides a snapshot into the stiff challenges faced by state-contracted human service agencies in dealing with dangerous clients. The victim, whose name is being withheld, was brutally beaten in August 2004 by ex-con Michael Winton, a resident of a 12-bed Bay Cove Human Services group home on Hamilton Street in Dorchester. The 47-year-old caseworker, an employee of state-contracted human service provider Vinfen, was “punched in the face multiple times, breaking his glasses, was kicked and pushed into a cabinet, hitting his head on the corner,” the complaint states.

Winton, a 6-foot, 300-pound Department of Mental Health client with a history of assaults, was arrested and pleaded guilty in November 2004 to beating and kicking the victim. He got two years’ probation.

The victim sued Bay Cove, and the suit was settled in 2009. The victim’s lawyer, James P. Keane, confirmed the settlement but declined to disclose details. Bay Cove officials and their attorney declined to comment.

The case is one of several court actions that highlight the perils of group home living. The Herald reported yesterday that Boston-area group homes have been the subject of several civil cases alleging substantial violence, including a stabbing, an arson, threats and an assault that left a staffer with a broken jaw.

In response to the Herald report, lawmakers called on a blue-ribbon panel probing group home safety to push for mandatory criminal background checks on clients before they’re sent to residential programs.

“If someone has a history of violence and they’re placed in a facility with people who do not have a history of violence, we’re creating a very dangerous situation,” said state Rep. Martin J. Walsh (D-Dorchester). “The state has to do a better job of screening these people. If there’s a history of violence, they should not be placed in a residential community.”

DMH clients are not subject to Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks. The panel, formed in response to the Jan. 20 slaying of Revere social worker Stephanie Moulton, is considering CORI checks and probing staffing and training at group homes. Authorities say Moulton was butchered by DeShawn Chappell, a schizophrenic DMH client with a long rap sheet.

“Clearly, the current paradigm isn’t working. Something needs to be changed,” said Rep. Bradley H. Jones (R-N. Reading).

In the Winton case, a 2004 Bay Cove assessment contained in the lawsuit described him as a “hostile” client with “a long history of poor functioning in the community.” In 2002, he was kicked out of an Attleboro sober house after he slammed a car into a utility pole to “scare staff.”In 1994, he was convicted of making threats and assault, and served 59 days in jail, records show.

Winton could not be reached for comment. His lawyer didn’t return calls.