Defense: Supervisors, not workers, decided on abuse reports
EXTON — An attorney for one of two workers accused of encouraging rather than reporting a fight at a center for young people with developmental and behavior disorders is alleging problems with the institution’s culture, a suggestion the organization strongly disputed.
Anthony Merrick, 25, of Coatesville, and Rayne Portela, 24, of Glenside, are charged with failure to report, child endangerment and conspiracy in connection with the July fight at the Devereux Kanner Center in West Whiteland Township.
Authorities said surveillance video shows them watching two children, ages 12 and 13, fighting with each other, encouraging them to continue, and Merrick recording the fight on his cellphone and sharing it with Portela through Snapchat.
Portela’s attorney, Evan Kelly, said Sunday she had been employed there for about three months at the time of the fight. The defense, he said, intends to show a culture at Devereux in which supervisors encouraged employees to go to them before reporting suspected abuse, with the supervisor then deciding whether a matter would be reported.
Leah Yaw, Devereux senior vice president, said the organization trains employees to understand that “every Devereux staff member is a mandated reporter” and is “outraged” if a person “chooses to deliberately flout that responsibility.”
“This is the case of a criminal defense attorney looking to shift blame from one individual onto the back of a 100-plus-year-old charity, committed to providing compassionate, expert care to children and families in need,” she said.
Officials earlier said that they were cooperating with law enforcement and that staff members receive “comprehensive training” as well as “re-trainings on safe and effective practices that support our philosophy of care.”
The defendants are no longer employed by the center. Court documents don’t list an attorney for Merrick, and a listed number for him couldn’t be found.
The Daily Local News of West Chester reported charges against five staff members last month — three accused of assault and child endangerment, and two with failure to report. Executive Director Carol Anne McNellis, of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, said in a statement that allegations involving children are “immediately” reported and that officials cooperate with agencies to investigate them.
“Nothing is more important to us than the safe and effective care of children, and we have absolutely zero tolerance, none, for anyone who does not strictly adhere to Devereux’s quality of care standards,” she said.
Devereux serves children, adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and behavioral and emotional disorders.