ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A judge just threw out most of the claims in a lawsuit filed by the family of an autistic man who was removed from an Orange County group home late last year.
9 Investigates first reported on the Beechdale group home, owned by Attain, which is at risk of losing its license, after workers claimed the man was naked, violent and in need of hospitalization, contrary to what was caught on surveillance footage at the time.
The State Agency for Persons with Disabilities and Department of Children and Families called the care of Arnaldo Rios-Soto into question after the incident. 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. In that incident, his caregiver was lying with his arms in the air, begging police not to shoot, but was ultimately shot in the leg.
After that incident, Rios-Soto was moved to Orange County to be near his family. Now, he’s living with his family after a lawsuit claimed the group home where he was receiving care used 911 calls to get him out.
“Tell me, tell me why you woke up and you’re so mad?” an Orange County deputy said while trying to calm Rios-Soto on Dec. 15 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 on 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.
“People with disabilities should be entitled to the same tenant’s rights as anybody else,” Dietz said. That was the basis of a lawsuit Dietz filed on behalf of the man’s family.
The suit claimed 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 the discharge, employees were directed to “create an incident in which Mr. Rios-Soto would be voluntarily institutionalized under the Baker Act.”
However, a judge sided with the home’s administrator, who filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge wrote, “Mr. Rios-Soto was offered alternative placement, and other than the fact that it was geographically undesirable to his guardians, the suit pleads no facts about how it would have been inadequate.” The ruling goes on to state that the plaintiff “seeks to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars, without even articulating an actual economic harm of any sort.”
The home’s administrator, Dr. Craig Cook, wasn’t available for an interview after the judge’s ruling on the motion to dismiss. He sent a statement, saying: “We are grateful for a speedy resolution of our motion after a thorough review of the case by the court. We also recognize that this is a very difficult and trying circumstance for the family and wish them the very best moving forward.”
Cook told us at the time of our first story that he had been working with the family on finding a more appropriate placement for Rios-Soto after the state cut his staffing and funding authorization, and what was seen on video and heard on the 911 calls from that December day did not tell the whole story.
“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 at the time. “There is physical evidence in the home, with property damage, and there was behavior you described that did occur in the home. 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.” That administrative complaint is still active but has not been scheduled for a hearing.