Michael and his wife Lisa hold a photo of Jonathan. Photo from the Disability Rights Project
Ten years ago today, Michael and Lisa Carey received word no parent should have to hear: Their boy Jonathan was dead.
The circumstances surrounding the 13-year-old’s death made it that much more tragic. Jonathan Carey suffered from non-verbal, severe autism, and was a resident at the Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center in Schenectady.
Two aides were ultimately found responsible for improperly restraining the boy in the back of a van while on an outing to Crossgates Mall.
Nadeem Mall, who was driving, pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and was sentenced to six months in county jail. His co-worker, Edwin Tirado, who restrained the boy, was convicted of second degree manslaughter and is serving five to 15 years in prison.
Since Jonathan Carey’s death, his father Michael has been a relentless advocate of reforming the state’s oversight of the developmentally disabled in its care.
He was successful in changing state law regarding a parents’ right to access records of abuse and neglect at state operated mental health facilities, now known as Jonathan’s Law. And he is currently spearheading an effort requiring those facilities to call 911 in the event of abuse or neglect.
Instead of calling 911, he claims, facilities are directed to the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, a state agency created in 2012, to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and neglect in state facilities.
“The death of Jonathan was tragic and brought about some changes in the mental health system, yet, here we are ten years later and there have still been no significant changes,” he said. “Most crimes against the disabled are still not being prosecuted.”
He claims the Justice Center intentionally excludes local law enforcement, and does not properly investigate or prosecute cases of abuse and neglect.
“Jonathan’s tragic death 10 years ago, today, is a reminder to us all that these are life and death matters and that individuals with disabilities can no longer be treated unequally and denied their equal protection of laws and access to 911 emergency services,” he said.