JONESBORO — Three Choate Mental Health administrators have been indicted on felony charges related to their work at the state-run facility.
Bryant T. Davis, Teresa A. Smith and Gary K. Goins had all been charged with official misconduct, a Class 3 felony, Union County State’s Attorney Tyler E. Tripp announced Monday.
Smith is also charged with one count of obstruction of justice, a Class 4 felony.
Choate Mental Health is a state-operated developmental center. The campus consists of six living areas — five civil living units and one forensic living unit, according to its website.
All are accused of violating the Department of Human Services investigating protocol, his office stated in a news release.
Tripp alleges these violations started a chain of events that impeded an active investigation by Illinois State Police-Division of Internal Investigation of a staff member battering an individual served at the facility. Felony charges are pending in this case.
Smith is also accused of making false statements to state police regarding her access to and review of investigative files at Choate, officials say.
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The indictments come after a string of other arrests last year tied to the institution. In all, eight current or former employees were arrested on charges connected to their employment at Choate.
As previously reported in The Southern, the Illinois State Police responded to Choate on March 22, 2018 to investigate allegations that mental health patients were being abused there.
Following their investigation, a Union County grand jury on Jan. 6, 2020 handed down indictments charging Sheri L. Fish, 49, of Sherman, Illinois; Cody A. Barger, 25, of Grantsburg; and Jonathan C. Lingle, 29, of Goreville.
Regarding one of the misconduct charges, the indictment alleges Barger, a former mental health technician at Choate, intentionally failed to report seeing another mental health technician allegedly cause "a patient to drink an entire cup of hot sauce.”
Barger and Lingle, who was also a mental health technician, both were charged with misconduct for allegedly failing to report an incident that caused a patient to have a broken arm.
They both were also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly giving false information to an Illinois State Police special agent — both allegedly denied knowledge of an incident of abuse. However, Barger’s indictment said that he later allegedly told the agent that he and Lingle grabbed a patient's arm. It was not clear from the court documents whether the two charges were related to the same incident.
According to her indictment, Fish, who was a security officer, was charged with misconduct for allegedly disclosing the identity of a person who had complained about a Choate employee.
Barger pleaded guilty March 25 to the obstruction charge with the others being dropped, according to court document database Judici. He was sentenced to one day in jail with a credit of one day applied from his stay in jail. He was also sentenced to 24 months of probation, 30 hours of community service and was ordered to pay a fine.
June 3, prosecutors moved to "nolle prosequi" — or to drop — the case against Fish, also according to Judici court records.
Also charged with crimes relating to their work at Choate were: Mathew Wiseman, 28, of Marion, Johnny Brimm, 40, of Jonesboro, Dalton Anderson, 29, of Jonesboro, Bobby L. Lee, 33, of Marion and Kevin Jackson, 37, of Carbondale.
State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, sits on the mental health subcommittee in Springfield — she said the alleged crimes by these defendants are not excusable.
“I’m not excusing the people that have been indicted,” she said. Bryant went on to say that chronic understaffing and overworking current staff could be part of the problem.
“What has been going on is an absolute failure to hire staff that’s needed,” she said.
But she said this is easier said than done.
“It takes a special kind of person to work in a mental health facility and they are hard to find,” Bryant said.
Part of the issue, too, Bryant said is the lengthy hiring process. She said by the time the state makes a decision on who would be good candidates for the job, many may have already taken positions elsewhere.
“I really think that that has to be a part of the conversation,” she said.
“With the indictments, especially with the indictments at Choate, I think it should bring attention to the fact that we really have to do some massive hiring and we have to make sure we are weeding out the really bad staff,” Bryant said.
Davis, Smith and Goins are scheduled for their first appearance in Union County at 11 a.m. July 19.
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