MOBILE, AL. (WALA)- FOX10 News Investigates is taking a closer look at group homes. These are homes for those with mental or intellectual disabilities. The homes could be in your neighborhood and you could be paying for it.
Recently, there have been three different cases where caretakers in these homes have been accused of some unthinkable crimes.
If you need help taking care of a loved one with special needs or maybe a family member who's getting older and suffering from a mental disability, you may have considered sending them to a group home. Your hope is the caretakers there would treat your loved one with the same compassion you would. But as we've seen in Mobile and Baldwin Counties in the past two years, that's not always the case.
Heather Cox remembers her son Matthew, as always being full of life.
She said, "We're going to remember his laugh.”
Matthew Cox was 21 years old. He started living at a Mobile group home in March, called New Way Out. Cox's mother said Matthew suffered from Autism and had the mental capacity of a four year old. He was only at New Way Out for seven months before police say the man who was supposed to be taking care of him, killed him.
Heather Cox said, “We as their families put them there for help, to help them get independence to help them grow and the whole thing all failed.”
Trent Yates is accused of stomping Cox to death. Yates was able to work at new way out despite pleading guilty to a 2014 3rd degree assault charge.
In Baldwin County, a group home caretaker, Quantrell Weeks, was charged with breaking the arm of a man with special needs.
Cpl. Jason Vannoy with the Daphne Police Department said, "It looks like to us that he was probably attempting to restrain him but made a bad decision and went about it in the wrong way."
In February of 2017, Mardi Gras in Downtown Mobile was in full swing.
But during all the revelry, something very bad was happening. A civil lawsuit claims a 25-year-old autistic woman was staying with her caretakers in a downtown hotel. The documents allege while her caretakers celebrated, the woman got out of her room. She was then sexually assaulted and found naked in Bienville Square early the next morning.
"All the group home people came down with the whole family and everybody had fun. It’s despicable," Vince Kilborn, her family's attorney said.
All of these crimes happened within a two-year span and all involved group home caretakers.
FOX10 News wanted to take a closer look into group homes to know how they're run and who's working inside them caring for your loved ones.
The Alabama Department of Mental Health inspects hundreds of group homes in Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
These homes are for patients with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities and they provide 24/7 care. Group home staff expenses are covered by Medicaid, with your tax dollars.
Volunteers of America Southeast CEO, Wallace Davis said, "Group homes are vital for people to be able to live a normal life. People with disabilities ought to have the privilege of living in the community like you and I do."
A national study affiliated with the University of Colorado suggests the need for group homes is on the rise. In just five years, 86,000 more people had a need for group homes. The study suggests that need will rise to more than 880,000 people in 2030.
Through our investigation, we've found these group homes can pop up in any neighborhood without any kind of notification to residents. According to the Fair Housing Act, this is allowed because those inside, suffering from illness or disability, are protected from discrimination.
Davis said that's rightfully so, "You would not notify neighbors that you’re going to have a group home or you’re going to move into a group home, any more than you would notify your neighbors that you’re going to move in. As a matter of fact it’s discriminatory to require that notification."
On the Alabama Department of Mental Health's website, there is a list of addresses for the homes they inspect. FOX10 News Investigates went to some of them across Mobile and Baldwin County.
We then talked to neighbors, some of whom didn't know about the homes.
One Daphne woman said, "I just would have liked to have known. I feel like if they are going to allow businesses in here then I never would have bought in here, I would've bought someplace else."
"I didn't know there was a home on my street but i'm fine with it. I think we should help those less fortunate," a Mobile homeowner said.
A Mobile homeowner said, "I see them walking around the block but they never bother me."
So what about those working inside the group homes? Four years ago, Trent Yates was arrested for 2nd degree assault. According to court records, the charges were downgraded to assault 3rd which is a misdemeanor, not a felony. The same records said the 3rd degree assault he plead guilty to was for assaulting a man a so badly, he was admitted into the hospital.
A civil lawsuit accuses four companies of negligently hiring Yates and failing to train and supervise him.
Dean Waite, attorney for the Cox family said, "I mean it’s really the most heinous kind of crime that you can imagine. Matthew is just like a child, a four year old child and you know you entrust people to take care of children, the elderly, the disabled, not to kill them."
When I called 'New Way Out' to ask how Yates could get a job there despite his guilty plea, they told me to stop calling and then hung up.
The Alabama Department of Mental Health said it is the responsibility of the home's service provider to perform background checks.
One group home provider told us, group homes are not allowed to hire people who have been convicted of felony crimes, but hiring someone with a misdemeanor on their record is up to the individual home provider.
While FOX10 News Investigates continues to press for answers, Vince Kilborn, the attorney representing a woman allegedly raped while her caretakers celebrated Mardi Gras, is preparing for court in his civil lawsuit.
He said, since the Department of Mental Health contracts with other companies, there's a lack of oversight going on in the system.
"The whole system is corrupt. Spotlight on the problem works. The old adage is, a Squeaky wheel gets the attention. I think it’s time for the squeaky wheel. What’s going to happen is this is going to be a repeating problem," Kilborn said.
We have also filed an open records request with the Alabama Department of Mental Health for inspection reports on all group homes in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. We'll let you know when we get those results.
In the interest of being transparent, FOX10 News Investigates wanted to let you know that WALA-FOX10 works with the Volunteers of America Association on a variety of community projects.
Volunteers of America Southeast is listed as a defendant in one of the civil suits in this story.