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Mattituck father alleges abuse in lawsuit against group home

A Mattituck resident is suing a Smithtown group home for allegedly abusing his son. 

In a summons and complaint filed in State Supreme Court on June 11, Michael Schuch said starting around 2020, several unknown workers at Developmental Disabilities Institute physically and psychologically abused his son on a routine basis.

Mr. Schuch’s son, who has autism and Down syndrome and is noncommunicative, “was subjected to forcible confinement, forcibly dragged up [and] doused with water and violently restrained, kicked, and verbally abused among other unconscionable abuses,” the complaint reads. 

The complaint claims this incident, which occurred around June 12, 2020, was captured on a surveillance tape that the group home has refused to turn over. It goes on to describe staff at the facility as “at best unqualified and poorly trained and at worst sadistic and barbarous,” resulting in “unspeakable abuse and neglect.” 

It claims that “various witnesses and staff members” informed CEO John Lessard, who is included in the lawsuit, and other administrators of the abuses, but rather than seeking to halt or discipline the perpetrators, the institute took steps to conceal the mistreatment. 

Mr. Schuch says in the complaint that he noticed the abuse on a chance visit, when he noticed “gouge marks” on his son’s arms that had gone unreported. His complaints allegedly prompted an investigation that uncovered the surveillance video documenting his son’s abuses.

The institute has declined to allow Mr. Schuch to view the video, according to the complaint. 

The lawsuit also alleges that Mr. Schuch’s son was “physically assaulted and battered … on other occasions” that have been witnessed by other staff members over the years, and that the abuse continued through 2021. 

In an answer filed Aug. 2, Developmental Disabilities Institute denied or claimed insufficient knowledge of Mr. Schuch’s abuse allegations. 

“The injuries and damages, if any, sustained by the plaintiff were caused by his sole, contributory or comparative negligence and in plaintiff’s failure to make proper observations and exercise reasonable care under the existing circumstances,” the response reads. It further states that the alleged injuries and damages, “if any,” were caused by third parties outside the institute’s control.

Developmental Disabilities Institute told The Suffolk Times that they can’t comment on ongoing litigation or, due to medical privacy laws, anyone under their care.

“We’re pleased that the Schuch family continues to entrust the care of their son to DDI … As we would with any situation raised regarding the hundreds of people we support, DDI has been transparent and cooperative to ensure any claim is fully investigated and appropriately addressed,” the institute said in a statement.

Mr. Schuch’s lawyer, Brad Gerstman, said Mr. Schuch is currently seeking a new residential program while visiting his son as often as possible.

“If you have a child that needs a residential program, it’s nearly impossible to find an open bed,” he said, noting the difficulty of removing someone from a residential program with 24/7 care. “That’s a really sad story of how New York State has allocated funds for the tidal wave of individuals growing out of school age who need residential programs.”

Mr. Gerstman added that they hope “after such a horrific incident, DDI [and the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities] will double down in terms of their oversight.”

Mr. Schuch is seeking damages for his son’s treatment and demanding a trial by jury.