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Mental facility sued for improper restraints

CLEVELAND (AP) — Staff at an Ohio mental health treatment center for children illegally restrained and injured residents and failed to inform state authorities when it occurred, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office alleged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the owner of the facility.

The lawsuit filed in Ashland County against owner Olga Starr, of Columbus, asks a judge to immediately stop Starr from operating the Perrysville facility, remove abusive staff members and appoint a third-party receiver to take over operations until the center’s 80 children can be placed elsewhere.

A message seeking comment was left with Starr on Wednesday. No attorney for her is listed in court records.

“These youth were in need of treatment and compassion but instead were held down and traumatized,” Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement. “There’s a clear line between therapy and abuse and that’s why we are before the court.”

Surveyors from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services interviewed residents during three inspections of the facility earlier this year.

The inspections were prompted by a complaint from a former employee about conditions there.

While reviewing surveillance video of restraint incidents, surveyors found gaps of several minutes in some recordings and could not find videos for other incidents despite log entries indicating they occurred in areas where there was camera coverage.

The Ohio Administrative Code details when and how residents at a mental health facility can be restrained. Children living at the facility are sent there by state and county agencies who have custody of them. They are not allowed to leave.

The lawsuit said Starr received written warnings in 2018 and 2019 about staff members improperly restraining residents.

A 16-year-old boy told surveyors a staff member instigated an incident in January which led to him being restrained for about 18 minutes.

The teen said the staff member agreed to release him only if he told the staff member’s version of events.

A video recording shows the teen was face down on the floor while a staff member laid on top of him, placed his forearm against his neck and throat and twisted his arm, the lawsuit said.

Video of a 17-year-old who was restrained for 28 minutes in January shows a staff member holding an item of clothing against his face for several minutes. The youth has a history of asthma and breathing problems, the lawsuit said.

A third youth said he was injured in December by a staff member who applied pressure to his shoulder while restraining him. The teen said his shoulder was dislocated during a prior restraint incident, according to the lawsuit.

Other residents reported that staff members “routinely twist arms or shoulders when applying physical restraints, causing physical pain to residents,” the lawsuit said.

A number of residents said the most severe restraints occur outdoors or outside the range of surveillance cameras. One resident told inspectors, “If they get you off camera, it’s over with.”

Perrysville is roughly 73 miles (117 kilometers) north of downtown Columbus.

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