School Staff Forced Mentally Ill Patients To Fight

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The cell phone containing videos of abuse at a Texas facility for the mentally disabled was found in a clothing store and offered to two television stations before being taken to an off-duty police officer, the man who found the phone testified Monday.

Lawyers for two defendants charged for their roles in late-night orchestrated fights among residents at the Corpus Christi State School argued Monday to suppress evidence, including the cell phone. They were scheduled to begin picking a jury Monday afternoon.

In March, almost 20 videos dating back to 2007 were found on the cell phone turned in to police, showing staff at the school forcing residents into late-night bouts, even kicking them to egg them on. Eleven staff members were identified and six were charged.

Former employee Timothy Dixon, 30, is believed to have shot the videos, though other staff members can been seen pointing cell phone cameras toward the brawls. None of those charged still works at the facility.

One Corpus Christi television station had the phone for two weeks before returning it to David Herrera, the man who found it at the store, Herrera testified Monday. Herrera then passed the phone to his girlfriend who showed it to an off-duty police officer at the local hospital where she worked.

Corpus Christi Police Officer Greg Shipley testified that Linda Franco, an employee at the hospital where he worked contract security, showed him three videos on the phone.

In one video, someone who appeared to be a janitor or staff member was assaulting a patient, Shipley said. On another, a staff member appeared to be squirting shampoo or some other substance onto the heads of patients while they were sleeping, he said.

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Ira Miller, Dixon’s lawyer, argued before District Judge Sandra Watts that a theft occurred when Herrera left the store with the cell phone without the intention of finding its owner.

Prosecutor Doug Mann compared the phone to a $10 bill found on the sidewalk, arguing that the phone was abandoned and that while it was not initially taken to police, once Herrera saw what was on it, he tried to act.

Watts said she would issue her decision after reading the case law.

Ray Gonzalez, an attorney for former employee D’Angelo Riley, argued that a videotaped statement his client gave to police should not be allowed into evidence because he did not have an attorney with him.

Riley, 23, was appointed an attorney earlier that morning and initialed his right to have an attorney present before the interview, but voluntarily went ahead, Corpus Christi Police Det. Curtis Abbott testified. Watts said her inclination was to deny Gonzalez’s motion but requested more case law.

Watts also gave preliminary approval to an immunity agreement that would allow a fourth former employee, Stephanie Garza, to testify in the other cases. Garza had faced a lesser charge for not intervening to stop the fight. Prosecutors obtained a stay on her case, which was also to begin Monday, after another judge refused to accept the immunity agreement.

The trial of another defendant in the case, Jesse Salazar, was delayed until August.

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