Chambersburg man charged in death of man with Down syndrome

January 18, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A Chambersburg caregiver has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Sept. 9 death of a man with Down syndrome.

Pennsylvania State Police allege Joseph Easton, 39, sat on a 37-year-old man at a care home operated by Person Directed Supports Inc., or PDS, on Field Circle in Guilford Township, Pa.

Franklin County (Pa.) Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner said Timothy Bradford Smith died of traumatic asphyxiation.

The involuntary manslaughter charge was filed Tuesday before Magisterial District Judge Kelly Rock. Court documents indicate bail was set at $25,000. Franklin County Jail staff said Tuesday evening that Easton had not been processed for entry.

In an affidavit of probable cause, investigating Trooper Jeffrey Bopp said Smith was in the care of two people at the time of his death. He alleges Easton told Smith to take a shower after he had defecated and urinated in his pants at lunchtime.

"The victim only stared at Easton. Easton repeated his directions to the victim, and the victim stood up, threw a balled-up paper towel at Easton and then charged," the affidavit states.

Smith and Easton struggled, with Smith scratching at Easton's eyes, the affidavit states.

The female PDS employee in the house contacted her supervisor as the pair continued to struggle, Bopp wrote in the affidavit. Easton flipped Smith face down on the floor, straddled Smith's waist and held Smith's arms above his head, the affidavit states.

Bopp alleges Easton began to ease his restraint of Smith a couple of times as struggling lessened, then intensified his restraint as struggling resumed.

The affidavit states Easton remained on top of Smith until other staff members from PDS arrived. It says a nurse called 911 for an ambulance.

"The victim was reported to have a history of attacking staff members and also of — playing possum' where he will pretend to be asleep or not hear someone. All staff present at the scene stated that they thought the victim was pretending," Bopp writes in the affidavit.

Bopp says he interviewed Easton's training instructor, who said he instructs PDS staff that once the client is on the floor, the staff member or members are supposed to back off and move to a location where there is an obstacle, such as a table, between them and the client.

"If the client gets back up, they are to avoid the client until the client tires and calms down," Bopp writes of the trainer's instructions.

Last week, Smith's sister told The Herald-Mail that Smith had resided at the home for about two years after having lived in two other facilities in the Chambersburg area. Becki Boor said Smith was living with his parents until he was about 21 years old, and his parents died within seven months of each other.

"What I want is for my brother's death not to be in vain," Boor said. "There has to be some sort of mandated training for these people."

The Franklin County District Attorney's Office said in a news release that the charge of involuntary manslaughter requires evidence to prove the person charged caused the death as a direct result of committing a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner.

Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000, the news release stated.

A call to Harrisburg, Pa., attorney William Lenahan, who represents PDS, was not returned.

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