TALLAHASSEE — State senators on Tuesday called for the closure of a home for developmentally disabled men in Seffner that permitted sex between its residents, and demanded greater accountability from the state agency that oversees the facility.
The Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs delivered a scathing rebuke of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities for not adequately addressing allegations of sexual abuse and lax supervision at the Human Development Center, a Hillsborough County group home provider.
Senators wondered why these issues had not been addressed in the more than two years since complaints first arrived at the office of the Tampa Bay region's area administrator.
That man, Carl Littlefield, was promoted Friday by Gov. Rick Scott to director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
"In two years, he never reached out to me," said Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, who called the hearing after reading an investigation in the St. Petersburg Times published in December. "In two years, he never picked up the phone."
It was unclear whether Scott, before making his appointment, knew that since 2001 Littlefield oversaw the Human Development Center, where a practice known as "quiet time" was permitted.
The Human Development Center houses men with severe behavioral problems, including sex offenders. During "quiet time," the staff let men have sex in their rooms with other residents. Storms, along with caseworkers and state nurses who have treated the residents, wondered if the men have the mental ability to consent to sex.
Over the years, the Department of Children and Families investigated allegations of sexual abuse at the center. The center's staff categorized one encounter in 2005 as rape, but administrators did not adjust the permissive sexual policy that national experts said could create a sexually charged atmosphere.
"This is Deliverance as far as I'm concerned," Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said. "They shouldn't be open another week."
The St. Petersburg Times investigation of the Human Development Center followed the seven-year stay of Kevin Rouse, a developmentally disabled 42-year-old accused of molesting children in Florida and New York. Incompetent and unable to face trial, Kevin was ordered by a judge to the Seffner facility.
While officials at the Human Development Center say they didn't promote sex, interviews and an internal report show that the staff believed Kevin would benefit from having intercourse with his peers. When Kevin's mother, Rose Rouse, protested, she said, she was told she was interfering.
Rose Rouse said she sent Littlefield a letter on July 17, 2008, telling him that the staff kept urging Kevin to develop a relationship with another resident.
"I want to clear this up: Kevin has stated that he does not want any relationships and I am not consenting to him having sex with another man at HDC," she wrote.
When she said she didn't receive a response, she e-mailed Littlefield in August 2008. Days later, Kevin was found receiving oral sex from another man in a bathroom. Rose Rouse took her concerns to Storms, who called for an investigation.
The Times story pointed out that, after two years, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities hadn't addressed sexual activity in group homes with a policy or new standards. Nor had the agency moved Kevin to another facility, as it had said it would try to do.
That prompted Storms to ask for officials at the Agency for Persons with Disability to appear before her committee Tuesday. Littlefield had planned to attend, before deciding to allow his predecessor, Jim DeBeaugrine, to address senators' questions, Storms' office said.
DeBeaugrine told the five-senator panel that he, too, was shocked when he first learned about "quiet time" in 2008.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks," DeBeaugrine said.
Staff members checked the men's night stands to make sure they had at least three condoms at all times, DeBeaugrine said he was surprised to learn. He said staff at HDC paired men with other men.
"We just didn't feel taxpayers were paying for a match-making service," he said Tuesday.
The Human Development Center annually receives about $100,000 in Medicaid funding for each of the 50 residents.
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, wanted to know why DeBeaugrine let the center stay in business.
"Why didn't you shut it down?" he asked twice. "This is a horrible, horrible waste of taxpayer dollars."
DeBeaugrine said he was told that he couldn't restrict sexual activity because it could infringe on the rights of the developmentally disabled residents.
DeBeaugrine told the senators it has been difficult finding homes other than the Human Development Center for men accused of sex crimes, such as Kevin. Few private group homes will take them.
Storms said that needs to change. She said she wants the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to encourage more group homes to take sex offenders so the Human Development Center isn't the "only game in the state."
She said rules may need to be written so judges don't order developmentally disabled clients with criminal issues to a specific group home, but rather to the state's care, so they can be moved more easily.
Storms also asked for all e-mails and records that pinpoint everyone who ignored the initial complaints about "quiet time." She was especially critical of Littlefield's Tampa Bay office, and alluded to whistle blowers who had been ignored, who "might as well be walking into an abyss and yelling."
Senators referred to the case of medical case manager Eileen Taylor, who was fired by Littlefield's office in November 2008 after the state nurse raised concerns about "quiet time." The Florida Commission on Human Relations has found that Taylor was a true "whistle blower" whom the agency retaliated against.
"Ignored me completely," Taylor said of Littlefield in an interview with the Times.
Littlefield did not respond to a request for comment made through the governor's office, which was taking calls for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities on Tuesday.
"I would like to know who did what, if anything," Storms said. "We're not finished by a long shot on this."
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or email@example.com.