Feb 2, 2011

Storms demands answers on sex at group home for developmentally disabled

A month after raising repeated concerns about controversial sexual practices at a group home for developmentally disabled men, state Sen. Ronda Storms said she is tired of waiting for answers from officials that oversee the facility.

Storms has summoned the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to a Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs hearing on Feb. 8.

"This is a vulnerable population and, regardless of their personal history, we're under an obligation to protect this vulnerable population," Storms, R-Brandon, said.

Two years ago, Rose Rouse, 74, told Storms that her son, Kevin, had been sexually abused at the Human Development Center, which wanted him to have sex with other men at the Seffner group home. Rouse wanted her son moved to another facility.

The center had a long-standing practice the men called "quiet time" where residents — including sex offenders — were permitted to have sex with each other.

The nonprofit Hillsborough County group home provider called it the men's right, but reports of rape, questions of consent, and retaliation against whistle-blowers leaked out.

Storms called for a state investigation that stopped "quiet time" in 2008. The Agency for Persons with Disabilities pledged to move Kevin Rouse and address sexual activity in group homes with a statewide policy or new standards.

As reported by the Times in its Dec. 19 story "Disquieting Time," more than two years later, the agency has not done either.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Health began this month investigating the group home's head psychologist and clinical director, Kim Church, who was responsible for the policy that allowed "quiet time."

The investigation could be forwarded to the Florida Board of Psychology, which could sanction Church. The Health Department would not confirm or deny the investigation, but Rose Rouse and a former state nurse interviewed by a medical quality assurance investigator told the Times about it.

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Kevin Rouse, 42, was accused of fondling or molesting children several years ago. With an IQ of 60, he was found incompetent to stand trial and a judge sent him to the Human Development Center in 2003. The group home is one of the few state providers that accepts men with histories of improper sexual behavior.

Rose Rouse told the center that her son could not participate in "quiet time." But the staff urged her to relent, believing Kevin would benefit from it, according to interviews and an internal center document.

In August 2008, a group home resident was found giving Kevin oral sex in a bathroom. The Department of Children and Families interviewed the men to determine if it was a case of abuse, and Kevin said that the man had been asking for "quiet time."

Church has said "quiet time" was just private time the men could spend with other consenting adults. Women could be brought on campus, but if the men desired sex with each other, staff members questioned the partners to make sure they knew what they were asking for. Safe sex was taught, and condoms were handed out. If anything seemed unsafe, the staff would not allow "quiet time."

But that's not the way Kenneth Sexton, 45, remembers it. He worked at the center for about a year in the late 1990s and said a resident who was sexually aggressive asked him if he could have sex with a younger "severely mentally retarded" resident.

The man called it "private time." Sexton said he asked the younger resident if he knew what "private time" was. He told Sexton it meant going to a room to listen to Michael Jackson tapes. Sexton denied the request.

A few days later, he said, a supervisor wrote him up.

"They told me I could not tell a client what they could and could not do," Sexton said.

That point was reiterated at a staff meeting with Church present. Sexton soon quit, but he always worried about the younger man's safety.

"That really bothered me for a long time," Sexton said.

Phone messages to Church and center executive director James Bell were not returned. Robert Petschow, a Hillsborough assistant state attorney who serves as president of the center's board of trustees, declined to comment.

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Storms can't believe that the Agency for Persons with Disabilities hasn't addressed her concerns already.

"If you're measuring my eyebrows," she said, "they're certainly above my hairline."

In a letter to agency director Jim DeBeaugrine dated Jan. 26, Storms said the Senate committee she chairs wants to know if any sanctions were proposed against the Human Development Center. She wonders how the state can be sure of sexual consent between the mentally disabled, and if the state is reviewing how it houses developmentally disabled sex offenders.

She wants to know why Kevin Rouse hasn't been moved.

"In the testimony that APD will provide to Sen. Storms' committee," agency spokesman Jeff Saulich said, "APD's position on these events will be clarified."

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities has told Rose Rouse that not many group homes near her Palm Bay home are certified to accept Kevin and his intensive sexual and behavioral history. Some also declined.

"There has to be a place available," Rose Rouse said.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.