I recently settled a lawsuit arising out of the strangulation death of an adult group home resident. John was a 30-year-old autistic man who became a resident of the defendant group home provider when he was 16 years old. At that time, prior to becoming a resident of the group home, John was cared for by his parents in their family home. After his parents divorced, John lived with his mother primarily. Due to his autism, he was prone to violent outbursts. As he became older and more mature, the outbursts became more violent. Further, because of John’s size, he was too difficult for his mother to handle. So, his mother made arrangements for John to reside at a group home that held itself out to the public as being able to manage autistic men with violent outbursts.
For most of his time at the group home, John did well. However, during the last year of his life, he became progressively more violent. John’s neurologist tried to modify John’s antipsychotic medications in an effort to better control his behavior. In addition, John’s parents, the group home administrators, and public officials who deal with individuals having developmental disabilities met to prepare a care plan in an effort to modify John’s behavior and provide safe care for him. However, John’s behavior continued to worsen.
In 2019, John attacked a group home caregiver. In defending himself, the group home caregiver punched John in the face, opening a large gash under his eye. This required stitches. While John was at the hospital, he became violent again, necessitating intervention by police officers. Ultimately, John was treated and released back to the group home.
On the following day, John became violent again. At this time, the on-duty aide attempted to restrain John. In doing so, he apparently put John in a chokehold which resulted in John’s death by strangulation. However, the aide denied that he strangled John. Instead, he said that he found John unresponsive on the floor sometime after he applied a restraint to him. He further claimed that John was breathing after the restraint and had subsequently gone to sleep.
The county coroner brought attention to the strangulation by showing that John had bruising and swelling in his neck area, exactly where a chokehold would cause such damage. John’s death was otherwise unexplained. When the coroner ruled the death a homicide, police officers interviewed the aide. During the course of interrogation, the aide admitted that he may have gotten his arm around John’s neck during the restraint.