A witness, who was not identified in court records, told police that Nellinger punched a 32-year-old wheelchair-bound man twice in the back. The witness told police the incident happened as Nellinger tried to push the man through a set of double doors to leave the mall.
The wheelchair seemed too small for the man, who was dragging his feet, and Nellinger punched the man when the wheelchair would not fit through the doors, court papers say the witness alleged to police.
The witness followed the group outside the mall and wrote down Nellinger's license plate number and reported the incident to the Department of Health and Human Resources. The witness described Nellinger to police and picked him out of a photo array compiled by investigators, records state.
When Nellinger was interviewed by police, he said he did not hit the man, who has communication skills comparable to a 2-year-old, police said.
Nellinger said the man was written up twice during the visit to the mall because he tried to hit another member of the day program group and pushed his wheelchair backward, nearly hitting several people in the mall, records state. Nellinger said he grabbed the man's hands twice, when the man tried to hit the other group member and when the man tried to scratch Nellinger, records state.
The man did not have any visible injuries, police said.
Jim Moore, executive director of EastRidge Health Systems, said EastRidge conducted an internal investigation into the incident and cooperated fully with the police and DHHR investigations.
For confidentiality reasons, Moore said he could not say whether Nellinger still works for EastRidge.
"The agency does have a no-tolerance policy for abuse and neglect issues," Moore said.
Conviction on a charge of abuse of an incapacitated person carries a sentence of up to either a year in jail or two to 10 years in prison, depending on the judge's discretion.