ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — An Orange County group home is at risk of losing its license after an incident with an autistic Orange County man was caught on video.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities and the Florida Department of Children and Families called the care of that man into question after workers at the group home claimed he was naked and violent, contrary to what the man’s attorney said was caught on surveillance footage.
The family, their attorney and the administrator of the group home are all speaking only with Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray.
Arnaldo Rios-Soto gained national attention in 2016 after a video of him sitting in the street in South Florida while holding a toy went viral. His caregiver was lying with his arms in the air, begging police not to shoot, but was ultimately shot in the leg. Afterward, Rios-Soto was moved to Orange County to be near his family. Now he’s living with his family after a lawsuit claims the group home where he was receiving care used 911 calls to get him out.
“Tell me, tell me why you’re woke up and you’re so mad?” an Orange County deputy said while trying to calm Rios-Soto on Dec. 15, 2019, after staff members of the Beechdale group home, owned by Attain, called 911.
Rios-Soto’s attorney, Matthew Dietz, provided surveillance video taken from inside the home at the time of those calls.
“The client here is very aggressive,” the caller said. “Right now, we can’t get him, we’re not able to control him, and I fear for my life.”
During the time of the first of three calls, Rios-Soto is seen interacting with a staff member before going into another room. There is no sound in the video, so it’s hard to tell whether he is agitated, but he is fully clothed.
“He’s running through the house making holes. We are trying to see if we can calm him down, but his behavior is too aggressive, we can’t get ahold of him,” the caller said. “Right now, he’s naked.”
Eventually, Rios-Soto is seen taken to the ground and restrained, where he’s held for more than 15 minutes until Orange County deputies arrive.
“Between the 911 calls that were recorded, and looking at the videos at the same time, you know none of this happened,” Dietz said.
Dietz claims in a lawsuit that administrators at Attain’s Beechdale group home wanted Rios-Soto out because staffing levels for his care were recently cut by the state, and that during a dispute over his discharge, employees were directed to “create an incident in which Mr. Rios-Soto would be voluntarily institutionalized under the Baker Act.”
Channel 9 took that claim to Attain’s Executive Director Dr. Craig Cook.
“I think there was a perception, when the 911 calls were made, that it was a play by play of what was happening, and that’s what gave the perception that the video didn’t match the 911 call,” Cook said.
Cook said he was working with the family on finding more appropriate placement for Rios-Soto after the state cut his staffing and funding authorization, and what was seen on video and heard in the 911 calls from that December day don't tell the whole story.
“There is physical evidence in the home, with property damage, and there was behavior you described that did occur in the home,” Cook said. “Much of it, not on video, but it didn’t occur in the home.”
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities is questioning the incident, too, calling for the group home’s license to be revoked. In an administrative complaint, APD notes the staff told deputies Rios-Soto was “running around the house nude, yelling and screaming at staff, and refusing to calm down,” but he was actually seen “walking around the living room fully dressed and hugging staff.”
“To see your family member being so vulnerable, and you’re trusting people who are going to take care of him not handling the situation correctly, to my mom especially, it broke her heart, it broke her trust,” Rios-Soto’s sister Miriam Soto said.
In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, attorneys for the group home argue the family failed to properly appeal the discharge months before deputies were called, and that the family “refused to retrieve him to transfer him to another facility.”
Cook reiterated those thoughts in this written statement:
“This is turning into a very sad and unfortunate situation for their son. It is important to put this matter in context; this family would not or could not care for or assist in the caring for their son. Further, the family steadfastly and repeatedly refused to help with proper placement for their son’s care as they were legally required to do. Now, they are filing an unsubstantiated lawsuit seeking money damages for the discharge of their son and trying to rely on an unproven and largely unrelated administrative complaint as a backdrop. While we want to respect confidentiality in this matter, law enforcement had to be called and the decision to remove their son was made by them — not us.”
Rios-Soto is now living with his sister Miriam and their mother in Orange County, but he needs 24/7 care.
“We are the voice he doesn’t have,” Rios said.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities told 9 Investigates that an administrative hearing is being scheduled on the issue of the home’s license. The lawsuit is still playing out in court.
© 2020 Cox Media Group