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Man left for dead in Schenectady basement files lawsuit

Man left for dead in Schenectady basement files lawsuit

The man who survived being beaten and buried under a pile of debris inside a Union Street basement l
Man left for dead in Schenectady basement files lawsuit
Crime scene tape surrounds the property at 1330 Union Street Thursday, September 3, 2015.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The man who survived being beaten and buried under a pile of debris inside a Union Street basement last year is suing the organization that placed his attacker in the apartment building.

The 2015 attack by Harold Michael Ortiz left Ralph Carson near death. Carson was rescued Sept. 2. Ortiz also attacked and killed a second resident of the building, Valerie Washington. Her body was found in the same basement where Ortiz was left for dead.

In the lawsuit brought last week on behalf of Carson, he alleges Mohawk Opportunities placed a dangerous, mentally ill Ortiz in an apartment at 1330 Union St. in August 2015 and did nothing to protect other tenants.

Attorney E. Robert Keach, who represents Carson, contends the agency took responsibility for Ortiz by placing him there and that Ortiz displayed multiple warning signs that Mohawk Opportunities failed to act on.

“Obviously, it’s a noble thing to try to help the mentally ill find a place to live,” Keach said Wednesday. “But when you take someone who’s obviously dangerous, put them in the community and don’t bother to warn anybody, and that person causes harm, you’re responsible.”

Keach filed the lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County. It also names the owner of the 1330 Union St. building, identified as Nandini Singh, claiming negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Ortiz’ mental health providers are also cited as potential defendants, though they are not named in the suit.

Joe Gallagher, executive director of Mohawk Opportunities, said Wednesday he was not aware of the suit and couldn’t comment. Singh could not be reached.

Ortiz, 44, most recently of Schenectady, pleaded guilty in June to second-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and other charges in exchange for a sentence of 30 years to life in state prison.

Authorities found Carson and Washington’s body buried under piles of debris in the apartment building’s basement.

Washington’s family is also considering a lawsuit, their local attorney Steven Kouray said Wednesday.

At the time of the attack, Ortiz, an ex-con, had recently been released from prison after serving 17 years for an attempted murder conviction in New York City. He was moved to the apartment building less than two weeks before the attacks, according to the lawsuit, which contends he was placed through a Mohawk Opportunities program that requires clients to have psychiatric diagnoses in order to find housing.

The program also requires that the client not be a danger to themselves or others, the lawsuit states.

Ortiz “had a known and documented history of serious, and depraved, violence against others,” Keach wrote in the lawsuit, also citing Ortiz’ prior attempted murder conviction, an earlier robbery conviction and a lengthy history of discipline during his prison term.

The Carson suit also includes new information about what Carson saw and experienced leading up to the attack and afterward.

Ortiz not only buried Carson under debris, but he also wrapped him in barbed wire and then burglarized both Washington’s and Carson’s apartments, according to the lawsuit. Ortiz took thousands of dollars in cash and property from Carson’s apartment, the suit states.

When rescued, Carson was suffering from dehydration and disorientation. He also had a concussion, bruises, swelling and deep wounds to his head, stomach, arms, legs, heel and other parts of his body, accordig to the lawsuit.

Ortiz attacked Carson when Carson went to the basement to do laundry, authorities said.

In the days leading up to the attack, the suit contends, Ortiz was frequently seen by Carson and other tenants showing signs of delirium and severe intoxication. Ortiz talked to people who weren’t there and exhibited “violent gestures and actions” against people who also weren’t there.

The lawsuit also contends Carson witnessed Ortiz trying to talk a Mohawk Opportunities case worker into the same basement where Ortiz would attack Carson. Afterward, the suit alleges the case worker admitted to Carson she’d been afraid of Ortiz.

Yet, Mohawk Opportunities continued to allow Ortiz to live there and took no further steps to determine if he posed a danger to tenants or to inform other residents of Ortiz’ violent past, the suit states.

The suit continues that a different Mohawk employee visited Carson after his release from the hospital to apologize to him and that at least one Mohawk employee was fired as a result of “actions or inactions involving Mr. Ortiz.”

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