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Another Choate Mental Health Center employee indicted resident abuse

Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in rural Anna, Illinois, was built more than 150 years ago.
Whitney Curtis
Special to ProPublica and Capitol News Illinois
Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in rural Anna, Illinois, was built more than 150 years ago.

Another caregiver at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna is facing charges for abusing a patient.

A grand jury indicted Joseph A. Clark, 24, of Grand Chain, on a felony charge of aggravated battery and a misdemeanor charge of battery.

Clark pinned a Choate resident to the ground with his leg on Feb. 28, according to the charges that were filed on May 16 but not made publicly available until the end of May.

Clark has been on paid administrative leave since the incident was reported by other staff. Since criminal charges were filed, Clark will soon be suspended without pay, pending a disposition in the case, according to a written statement provided by spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Human Services, the agency that operates the facility in far southern Illinois.

Clark could not be reached for comment. Alan McIntyre, his attorney, declined to comment.

Clark was indicted by the same grand jury that indicted John Curtis Spaulding last month. Spaulding was captured on video grabbing a patient by the shirt, throwing him to the floor and punching him in the stomach, according to felony aggravated battery charges filed against him.

Because there was an 11-day delay between Spaulding’s February incident and when it was reported to the IDHS inspector general, security officers were only able to review the footage once the complaint was received. They then provided it to the OIG investigators who gave it to the Illinois State Police, leading to the grand jury indictment.

Spaulding resigned within hours of security viewing the footage. During a phone interview last month, Spaulding denied abusing any patients. He said he resigned because he was tired of the poor working conditions and difficult schedules at Choate.

IDHS did not comment on whether the incident involving Clark was caught on camera.

Clark will be the 20th Choate employee charged with a felony related to misconduct and abuse at the facility in the last five years. To date, no one has received a prison sentence in those cases.

The charges come more than a year after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration announced reforms at Choate in the wake of an ongoing news investigation by Capitol News Illinois and ProPublica that uncovered a culture of cruelty and abuse at the facility. Those reforms included installing cameras in communal areas and moving patients with developmental disabilities to other facilities or to group homes in the community.

Clark and Spaulding are scheduled to appear in Union County court on July 1 to enter their pleas to the charges.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Beth Hundsdorfer is a reporter with Capitol News Illinois.