Summit County sheriff’s Detective Joe Storad knew he would be busy when he took a full-time assignment investigating crimes against — and sometimes committed by — those with developmental disabilities.
He underestimated how busy.
Already this year, the county Developmental Disabilities Board has received about 900 complaints, ranging from criminal violations to simple bad behavior.
“It’s amazing to see how many cases come through the DD board on a daily basis,” said Storad, who took the position in late July.
The Summit County DD Board is believed to be the second agency in Ohio with a trained law enforcement officer dedicated full time to such criminal investigations. Stark County’s DD board contracted with its sheriff’s office in 2007.
DD boards already have workers who investigate safety and other complaints and refer cases to police agencies when necessary. It’s rare to use a dedicated detective working full time alongside those investigators.
Leaders at both agencies cited the sheer volume of allegations flowing through their systems and the desire to have a law enforcement expert focused on their cases as reasons why they wanted a detective.
Storad’s job is to help identify criminal behavior and make sure charges, if necessary, are filed. The one-year contract is worth $103,579.
Summit will benefit from the relationship, Stark County DD Superintendent Bill Green said.
“It has been the best investment, and one that we clearly are committed to,” he said. “And it has ensured the protection of people with disabilities in our community.”
Crimes committed against people with developmental disabilities are a widespread problem nationwide, according to a recent report by the Disability & Abuse Project in Los Angeles.
The organization conducted an online survey of thousands of disabled, their families and providers. It found that more than 70 percent of people with disabilities indicated they were victims of abuse.
About half of the incidents weren’t reported to authorities.
“The bottom line is that abuse is prevalent and pervasive, it happens in many ways, and it happens repeatedly to victims with all types of disabilities,” said the report, Abuse of People with Disabilities: Victims and Their Families Speak Out.
It follows an October 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Justice that showed the disabled are nearly two times as likely to be the victim of a violent crime. People age 12 or older with disabilities experienced about 567,000 nonfatal violent crimes in 2010, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.
Bringing issue to light
Dr. Nora Baladerian, a clinical psychologist and executive director of the Disability & Abuse Project, said crimes against the disabled are an epidemic nationwide. But the extent of the problem largely goes unnoticed because the media doesn’t tie incidents together for the public.
“People really don’t want to know this,” she added. “They don’t want to talk about this. It’s too horrible. ... The general public really is not digging deep to learn the lives of people who have developmental disabilities. They don’t give it a lot of thought.”
That might be changing.
The Arc, a national advocacy group, announced last month that it received a two-year grant for $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to develop a national center on justice and intellectual and developmental disabilities. The goal is to create a clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for law enforcement and disability professionals and advocates.
Statewide, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities’ Major Unusual Incident (MUI) and Registry Unit reviewed more than 18,500 allegations last year.
Of those, 371 involved sexual allegations, and 76 were substantiated. There also were 1,469 complaints of physical abuse and 1,344 for theft.
Baladerian and others, such as the Arc of Summit and Portage Counties, praised the new effort in Summit.
“The Arc will always be supportive of any partnership that assists in ensuring that people with disabilities are treated with the same respect as community members without developmental disabilities,” Arc Executive Director Leeanne M. Saro said by email.
“Reports of crimes against people with developmental disabilities should be investigated with the same level of importance as every other community member. Those who commit crimes against people with developmental disabilities should be prosecuted to the fullest extent,” she said.
Not everyone is so enthusiastic.
Rose Juriga, executive director of the Tri-County Independent Living Center in Akron, worries that more charges could be brought against the developmentally disabled because many allegations are peer to peer.
And paying for a dedicated detective seems unnecessary, she said.
“Isn’t that the job of law enforcement to do that?” Juriga asked.
She said she would rather have money put toward preventative efforts to improve social relationships and for anger management counseling.
A 20-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, Storad works out of a tiny, nondescript office in the basement of the DD offices on Howe Road in Tallmadge. He took the job because he saw it as a way to make a positive impact in the community.
“It’s very rewarding to work over here,” Storad said.
He called it both amazing and disheartening to see the sheer volume of allegations flowing through the DD agency.
Storad reviews all the complaints investigators handle to determine if there’s a criminal component. He can handle the case himself or assist a police agency.
His first case involved a caregiver stealing medication from patients.
Storad already has seen plenty of cases involving physical and sexual abuse and theft.
So far, he has helped with eight arrests, including a high-profile case of a care worker accused of dousing a woman with Lysol and assaulting her at a group home in August in Silver Lake.
Stark County Detective Rocco Ross, who has worked with Stark DD since the original contract was signed in 2007, said most of the local incidents today are sexual or theft allegations involving family and friends.
He said his most upsetting case occurred in 2009, when authorities charged a Plain Township woman with leaving her malnourished 8-year-old son, who suffered from cerebral palsy and was a quadriplegic, at home alone while she went to work.
“The toughest cases are always the kids, the neglect,” Ross said. “The parents, for some reason, don’t care or don’t know how to care for their child in need.”
Investigations can be complicated and take longer with a developmentally disabled person.
“You just have to be patient with them and hear what they are saying,” Ross said.
“It’s not about the convictions,” he added. “It’s about getting justice for the individual and letting them know [they are] believed and we’re going to make this right.”
Lindsay Bachman, who heads the MUI division at Summit DD, long advocated for Summit to follow Stark’s lead. She said Storad has been a great addition.
He’s able to “speak the speak” with police agencies and prosecutors when it comes to cases, she noted. His presence also assures developmentally disabled individuals and their families that their cases are being investigated thoroughly.
“We owe it to the people to serve,” Bachman said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.