Lawsuit Claims Private Home For Disabled Housed "One Big Orgy"

Willow River Farms, a private group home for the mentally retarded and physically disabled in Brookshire, turned into a place where "residents would gather in groups and have sex with multiple partners at the same time," and the atmosphere was described as "one big orgy" by a former employee, according to a lawsuit recently filed in Harris County.

The suit, filed by Houston attorney John Ramsey, focuses on the alleged sexual assault of a 42-year-old mentally retarded woman.

"The more the family told me about this, the angrier I got," Ramsey tells Hair Balls. "[Willow River Farms] helped create a predator who is preying on other residents at this facility."

The woman, who isn't named in the suit, had lived there for more than 20 years and "helped open the place," Ramsey says.

The problems started when, for whatever reason, the director at Willow River Farms implemented a new policy that instructed staff "not to interfere with residents who chose to have sex," according to the lawsuit.

Specifically, [the director] instructed WRF's house parents that residents are allowed to have members of the opposite sex enter their rooms, shut the doors, and have sex with each other. House parents were told to give those residents privacy for a certain period of time to allow them to have sex. Furthermore, the house parents were instructed that they could only interrupt the residents engaged in sexual intercourse if they were making too much noise or disrupting others in the home.
"The problem is, they never told my client's parents about this new policy," Ramsey says. "We don't know if the policy only applied to people who operated at a much more advanced level, and unfortunately, we don't know what they did to protect the most vulnerable residents, like my client."

In October of 2008, one of the supervisors at Willow River Farms called the woman's parents and said there was something wrong with her, that she wasn't talking to anyone and seemed frightened. According to Ramsey, the resident that allegedly assaulted her had also started banging on her bedroom door, yelling, "bring her out, bring her out. She's my girlfriend."

The family took the woman from the facility that night, and after doctors found bite marks and bruises on her inner thighs, filed a complaint with the Waller County Sheriff's Department. The family didn't give any sworn statements before the case was presented to the grand jury, and the case was no-billed. A complaint was also made to the state's Department of Disability and Aging Services, which concluded that the sexual assault claims were unsubstantiated.

Last month, in "The Recruit," the Houston Press wrote about problems with the lack of oversight in the private homes. Furthermore, we found the state has little authority to investigate claims of neglect and abuse in the private facilities.

"It's very disappointing, because their hands are really tied with who they can talk to and what exactly they can investigate," Ramsey says. "The family feels like they've had a door slammed on them in every phase."

The woman has been living at home for the last eight months, a burden on her aging parents. But, Ramsey says, she can't go to another group home because she shakes uncontrollably when she's around men she doesn't know, has nightmares, and can't control her bladder or bowels.

"All the publicity has been about what happens at the state schools," Ramsey says. "But the family wants other people to know that this is happening at private homes, too. If someone has a loved one in one of these private homes, they should take a closer look at the facility."

Kevin Kern, the director for Willow River Farms, wasn't immediately available for comment. Eva Aguirre, the director of the Houston non-profit that runs the facility, also wasn't available.

Update: Eva Aguirre, director for the Center Serving Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, tells Hair Balls, "We strongly disagree with how the event is being portrayed."

She says she has been advised not to discuss specifics of the case since the lawsuit is open, adding that the allegation was investigated and dismissed by several agencies. "I've been here 22 years and this is the first time an incident has been viewed in this matter."

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