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Resident at center of controversial group home investigation will be moved soon

VIERA — The fate of a mentally disabled man who has been trying to leave a Seffner group home under Senate scrutiny for a controversial sex policy has been handed over to the state.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities received exclusive authority to move Kevin Rouse to another state-licensed group home under a court settlement Friday that also gives Rouse's guardians recourse to object.

The agreement came after a stalemate between Rouse's guardians and the state, who have been at odds on where Rouse should go since he asked to leave the Human Development Center, where he said he was sexually assaulted nearly three years ago.

His guardians worry the court order permits the state to retaliate against them for complaints they made about controversial sex practices at the group home by sending Rouse far from where his mother lives.

"I just don't want them to move him someplace without us knowing," said Rose Rouse, Kevin's mother.

Kevin Rouse, 42, was accused of lewd and lascivious molestation of an 8-year-old boy in March 2003 but a judge found him incompetent and sent him to the Human Development Center, which houses mentally disabled men, including those accused of sex crimes.

The center had a long-standing permissive policy that allowed residents to have sex with each other during a practice the men called "quiet time." The staff maintained the sex was consensual, supervised and the right of the residents. But Rouse's mother objected and said the sexually charged environment led to her son being assaulted in a bathroom in 2008.

She took her concerns to state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, and over the next two years, investigations and Senate hearings resulted in a top state official's resignation, a Senate bill and several Times' stories that detailed sexual abuse allegations and a rape the center's own records acknowledged in 2005. Experts and former staffers questioned the center's ability to protect men who lack the ability to consent from higher-functioning sex offenders.

The state stopped "quiet time" in 2008, but the group home faced no sanctions. Rouse, meanwhile, has been unable to move because the state said few qualified homes will take him except for "lockdown" facilities or homes farther from his guardians, who have rejected those options.

The state is considering moving Rouse in the next two weeks to a group home either in Mount Dora, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale or Miami, his guardians learned from Rouse's public defender. They especially object to the latter two choices and prefer a home within an hour's drive of St. Petersburg or Palm Bay, where Rose Rouse lives.

Wherever the state moves Rouse, Brevard Circuit Judge Robert T. Burger must sign off on placement. The judge's order prohibited more restrictive homes. He said he will hear any objection, but gave the state permission to move Rouse first and then seek his approval.

"They may need to move him because of the inappropriateness of the place he's in now," Burger told Rouse's guardians.

State prosecutors also dismissed the 8-year-old criminal charge against Rouse on Friday but he remains under a civil court order that keeps him involuntarily committed to the state.

Public Defender Herbert Kellener said the compromise was the best he could legally negotiate, saying the judge remains Rouse's guardians safety net.

"Do I agree with what went on?" he asked about the Human Development Center. "No. Nobody could. But we have to follow the rules. We have to abide by the (law)."

Said Mike Palecki, an attorney with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities: "The judge did the right thing."

Much of the dispute between Rouse's guardians and the state could be alleviated if the state licensed more facilities that accept hard-to-place men such as Rouse, said Sylvia Smith, legislative and public affairs director for Disability Rights Florida. A proposal that could have forced the state to license more homes failed during the legislative session.

"They should be doing what the bill called for anyway," she said.

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3368.

Resident at center of controversial group home investigation will be moved soon 06/24/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 24, 2011 9:56pm]
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