Push for statewide caregiver ban and registry following reports of abuse, neglect in group homes​

Brandon Owens and his dad Erik Owens. (WTHR)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Thousands of viewers across the country watched and shared 13 Investigates' report about abuse and neglect in group homes.​

At issue, providers hiring people with violent criminal histories to care for the most vulnerable.​​

There are now plans for a caregiver registry in Indiana to help protect those who can't protect themselves.

A local father and son want more than felony convictions on the statewide tracking network.

Sunny skies, big smiles and the sound of hands catching a football filled the air at an Indianapolis park.​

It was a good day for Erick Owens and his 25-year old son Brandon as they threw passes back and forth.​

Brandon has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism that often comes with behavioral issues. ​

Brandon lives in a group home and is under 24-hour staffing, and he's genuinely happy.​

But 13 Investigates discovered that hasn't always been the case.​​

"It broke my heart. I know the heartache we experienced," Erick Owens told 13 Investigates, as he began to share about an incident in April 2012. That's when Brandon was attacked in his former group home by the man hired to care for him. ​​

Claude Crawley after he was arrested in 2012 for a group home battery arrest. (IMPD)

"I was confused. I really, really was confused at the moment," Brandon said. "I didn't know what to think. I was surprised that he would hurt me."

Brandon and his father decided to tell their story after seeing our investigation into abuse and neglect at ResCare group homes in Indiana. ​

Important to note, ResCare bought Capitol City the company in charge of the group home where Brandon was attacked, just days after the incident.

It started when Brandon called his dad to say there was no food in the house. ​

Erick Owens immediately called the house manager. She promised help. When she showed up hours later, she discovered Brandon in the home unsupervised. Brandon is supposed to have 24-hour supervision. His scheduled caregiver Claude Crawley was nowhere to be found.​

And when he did finally show up, there was trouble.​​

"It was just all of this chaos," Brandon recalled.

"Claude was inebriated; just irate thinking that Brandon ratted him out," said his father.​​

After a verbal altercation, the situation turned violent.​​

"Claude eventually got a hold of Brandon and started attacking him, and I believe it ended when he pushed Brandon's head through the wall," said Owens, who still gets emotional at the thought of what happened to his son.​​

It took two surgeries to repair Brandon's broken nose and facial injuries from having his head smashed through a wall. ​​

"Just devastated knowing that my son was hurt by someone," he told 13 Investigates. "First you're angry and wonder how this could happen and then the next thing is making sure he's going to get taken care of." ​

Crawley was arrested and charged with Felony Battery, Intimidation and Disorderly Conduct.​

Turns out it's not the first time.​​

In 2003 Crawley was arrested for Domestic Violence, but all the charges were dropped.​

Two years later, in 2005 Crawley faced another Domestic Violence case. But as part of a plea deal, he was sentenced to just 12 days in jail for misdemeanor battery and 158 days on probation. Crawley eventually violated his probation and ended up back in jail. But still he was hired to work in the group home.​

Crawley faced another domestic violence case in 2005. (WTHR)

The Owens family wants to know why a man with a violent criminal history would be given such an important trust over vulnerable residents.​​

"They should at least not have a record, and not have any kind of domestic record at all," Brandon said.

The assault at the group home resulted just like Crawley's other cases. He struck a deal, admitted to the intimidation charge and walked free.​​

"He got off with just a year probation," explained Owens, who later decided to take legal action. ​

On behalf of his son, Owens filed a civil lawsuit against Capitol City and ResCare, the owners of the group home, for causing Brandon "severe personal injury and emotional distress." The Owens family also alleged negligence "in the hiring, retention and employment of Claude Crawley."​​

Capitol City settled the lawsuit for $25,000 but did not admit fault. ResCare was not held liable as the new owner.​​

Now Owens is pushing for change in the entire industry, from hiring practices to the prosecution and tracking of violent caregivers.​​

"You would hope when people are getting hurt severely that there would be a way to say, 'Ok, who are the bad players,'" he said, explaining why he wants the State of Indiana to create a registry of violent caregivers.

"Doing nothing is not an option any longer. ..."

It's an idea under consideration by one of the state's top advocacy groups for the disabled.​​

"We're hoping that we can come up with a way to create a registry to help providers choose people who should be working in those situations a little bit better," said Kim Dodson, executive director at Arc of Indiana. Dodson said cases like the ones 13 Investigates exposed show a need for more protection. ​​

"Doing nothing is not an option any longer, but we have to do something," Dodson said.

She is working with the State's Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Task Force to come up with recommendations for the caregiver registry. The registry would be public and would list direct care staff, who have committed offenses that should ban them from working with those who are developmentally disabled here in Indiana. The Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services would oversee the registry. Dodson says the task force plans to meet early next year to figure out what kinds of offenses should prevent someone from working in a group home setting.​​

Twenty-six states across the United States already have what some refer to as a Caregiver Registry. Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington state, Wyoming and West Virginia.

A new law that went into effect July 1, 2019, allows Indiana to create an electronic registry through June 30, 2023. It will contain information relating to persons convicted of a felony. Applicants for caregiver jobs who plead guilty to lesser violent crimes could still get hired, and that's the concern.

Owens wants swift action, fearing another group home crisis somewhere could lead to harm.​​

"This whole nasty process could be starting for someone fresh today, and that's just heartbreaking," he said choking back tears.​​

Brandon left the Capitol City/ResCare group home system shortly after the attack. ​

The damages Brandon won from his lawsuit are in a special trust fund to keep him from losing his Medicaid waiver status.​​

ResCare, now operating under the name BrightSpring, responded to Eyewitness News and the call for a caregiver registry:

"BrightSpring fully supports the creation of a state-wide caregiver registry in Indiana. We have played an instrumental role in developing similar registries in other states, including Kentucky. Such databases help to protect individuals with disabilities, their families and the companies that care for them."

Crawley has been ordered to stay away from ResCare facilities, but nothing prevents him from working in a group home setting again.​