A man who cared for the disabled was convicted of assault against a man with Down Syndrome living in an adult care facility in Santee.
Michael Carter faces four years in state prison for breaking the victim’s jaw. Carter, who was one of the victim’s caregivers, is also barred for life from caring for dependent adults and children, following a separate trial in the state’s administrative law court.
The incident happened Dec. 18, 2013, at the Wind River Family Care Center, an assisted living home for the 36-year-old victim and five other developmentally disabled adults.
Carter was a live-in caretaker at the home, and according to his testimony, has known the victim since they were children.
But on that December day, something happened.
Prosecutors still don’t have a motive, but they say Carter hit the victim and fractured his jaw.
The owner of the facility had installed a surveillance camera in the common areas of the home to protect himself, his employees, and his clients.
In response to a Public Records Request filed by NBC 7 Investigates, the state Department of Social Services released an edited version of the video recorded that day. It shows Carter performing routine tasks around the care home, where he helps the clients bathe, dress and perform other basic functions. But images of the victim and other clients were edited out of the video to protect their privacy.
Court records reveal what can’t be seen on that edited surveillance video.
In a written decision that prohibits Carter from ever again working in a licensed state care home, Administrative Law Judge Carla Nasoff said the video shows Carter and the victim, identified as “S.K.”, entering the bathroom together.
“There was no evidence that S.K. had any mouth injuries before he entered the bathroom,” Judge Nasoff wrote.
And no evidence that the victim fell in bathroom, but Judge Nasoff says the video shows S.K. had “blood around his mouth and continuously touched his mouth area” when he left the bathroom.
That video also shows Carter “repeatedly” wiping away the blood from the victim’s mouth.
The victim left the care home for a day program he attended at the ARC center in El Cajon.
It was there that ARC employees noticed S.K’s injuries, which included scratches on his neck.
Gina Turner, who supervised the ARC day program, told NBC 7 Investigates that she saw the blood in S.K.’s mouth and his swollen jaw.
"It would just keep refilling, the gums would just keep refilling with blood, as quick as he would rinse out his mouth,” Carter recalled.
Turner said she asked S.K. a series of questions to find out what happened.
The victim communicates only with sign language and facial expressions and responded to Turner with “thumbs up, thumbs down” gestures and eye movements. This led Turner to conclude that S.K. had not fallen and had not hurt himself during the bus ride from the Santee care home to the El Cajon day center, and that the injury happened at the home.
She immediately called the owner of the home, Julian Petrov, who quickly drove to the day center.
“Julian comes up and asks, 'Did Mikey hit you?'”, Turner recalled. “And [S.K.] gives thumbs up, to say, 'yes'.”
Petrov took the victim to Grossmont Hospital, where X-rays confirmed a serious jaw fracture. According court documents, Petrov immediately ordered Carter to leave the Wind River Care Home and take a drug test, standard procedure in cases of suspected abuse.
Turner says Petrov’s actions helped build the case against Carter.
“He called everybody. Got [S.K.] to the doctors. He kept in communication with me," said Turner.
Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates confirm Carter tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines.
At his administrative law hearing last September, Gina Turner and Julian Petrov told an administrative law judge what they saw and how they helped S.K. confirm that Carter had assaulted him in that bathroom, and broke his jaw.
Carter testified on his own behalf, and denied the allegations, telling Judge Nasoff that he would never hurt the victim, whom he'd known for decades, and whom he described as "like a brother" to him.
Carter said the victim might have hurt himself by falling in the bathroom, or on the bus ride to the El Cajon day program.
But Judge Nasoff said the surveillance video and the victim's use of sign language to confirm Carter hurt him, were evidence enough that Carter "inflicted pain" on the (the victim) and "deprived him of dignity and respect".
Judge Nasoff ordered Carter to stay away from care homes, and their clients, forever.
Gina Turner says the process showed that care-givers, state regulators and prosecutors are committed to protecting California’s most vulnerable population.
"These guys are put into our supervision,” Turner said. “They’re in to our protection, and that's our job, to protect them. And to hear that a care provider would do something this extreme, it's, it's heartbreaking. It really is. These people are defenseless."
Michael Carter was also charged in California criminal court, where he was accused of three felonies, including abuse of a dependent adult likely to produce great bodily harm, and battery and assault causing serious injury.
He also faced two misdemeanor drug charges.
On January 13, Carter pleaded guilty to the felony assault charge.
He faces up to four years in state prison at his sentencing hearing next month.
Carter and his attorney declined to be interviewed for this story.