An aide at the state’s O.D. Heck Developmental Center was charged Tuesday with a pair of misdemeanors stemming from allegations that she punched a blind and autistic client outside a city restaurant after the client spilled the aide’s food.
Two other aides also were charged because authorities said they failed to intervene in the client’s behalf, and a fourth aide faces a similar charge.
Christina Brandon, 46, of 482 5th Ave., Troy, voluntarily appeared in City Court Tuesday afternoon to face the charges of misdemeanor assault and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.
She is accused of punching a female client in the upper right side of her chest after the patient spilled her salad as aides and clients sat in a van on June 5 outside the McDonald’s restaurant on Park Avenue.
The punch caused a purple-colored bruise, according to court records. The client, identified as Lynn Lasalle in court documents, is autistic, blind and does not speak, police said.
O.D. Heck, based in Niskayuna, is run by the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.
OMRDD spokeswoman Nicole Weinstein confirmed the client is an adult but would not give any specifics about her, citing privacy concerns.
A witness statement given to police claims Brandon was heard yelling at the victim, “You spilled my [expletive] salad.”
The witness is listed as Pamela Russell, a private investigator from Vermont. Her statement claims she was off duty when she witnessed the incident. Russell was not investigating or following the O.D. Heck van but was working on an unrelated case in New York, according to police.
A contact number for Russell was not available Tuesday.
The statement also claimed that, after she was punched, Lasalle “reached out with her right hand which the caregiver forcefully wrestled down and flung the arm toward the woman’s lap.”
Two other aides present when the alleged assault occurred and who police said failed to intervene, Natalie Richardson, 49, of 25 Swan St., Schenectady, and Dranae Washington, 37, of 227 Elm St., Schenectady, were also charged Tuesday with misdemeanor endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.
Police said the fourth aide, Sharon Butler, 48, of Park Place, Schenectady, was reached late Tuesday afternoon by police and will appear in court today to face the single misdemeanor endangering the welfare charge.
The attorney representing Brandon, Sanford Finkel, declined comment after the court appearance. Glen Brownell, the attorney for Washington, also declined comment. Richardson appeared without an attorney and was unavailable for comment.
During her court appearance at about 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Brandon told City Judge Joseph Sheehan that she has been working for O.D. Heck for 21 years.
“There’s [dozens of] O.D. Heck employees all performing their jobs well every single day under stressful situations,” Mechanicville Police Chief Joseph Waldron said. “This should not be a blight upon them.”
The four women remain on paid leave while the case against them is pending, Weinstein said.
“Once due process has been served and the criminal courts have resolved this matter, then we will do our own investigation and take administrative action as necessary,” she said. “OMRDD is cooperating with the Mechanicville Police Department and the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office and we’re prepared to provide them with any information to allow due process to proceed in this matter.”
The incident happened on a planned outing for the O.D. Heck clients. Weinstein said there were five clients in the van that day but would not discuss any other specifics about the outing.
“These four employees, especially one employee, did something wrong. They’re going to pay the price for what they did wrong,” Waldron said. “We’re fairly confident we’re going to prove the allegations we put forth.”
The three women who appeared in court Tuesday were processed and released without bail. Their next court appearances are scheduled for July 1.
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