Mentally Disabled Forced Into 'Fight Club' at Texas Home

Night shift made cell phone videos of residents at Texas facility.

May 11, 2009, 12:09 PM

May 12, 2009— -- Terrified residents at a Corpus Christi, Texas, state school for the mentally disabled were forced to be part of a brutal "fight club" operated by night shift employees, who made videos of the sessions with their cell phones, the newly released videos show.

On the videos employees can be seen and heard laughing and prodding the residents to fight.

Watch "Nightline" at 11:30 p.m. ET for Brian Ross' full report.

One resident is seen on the video trying to run away from his attacker and a large group of employees and residents tracking him through the halls. When cornered, he wails and moans and tells the employees, "I will behave."

The videos were discovered by police in March when one of the school employees left his phone at a hospital and it was turned over to police. In an effort to find its owner, officers saw the disturbing videos.

A judge ordered the tapes released to an attorney suing the state on behalf of a former resident also forced into the "fight club."

"It happened for over a year and it happened for many nights out of the week," said the attorney, Bob Hilliard.

Hilliard's client, Armando Hernandez, says he was told he would "go to prison" if he did not fight.

Hernandez, who is mentally disabled, says he was fearful to even tell his mother of what was happening inside at night.

"They say 'snitches get stitches,'" Hernandez told ABC News.

A judge ordered police to provide the tapes to Hilliard on Friday for use in his lawsuit against the state, without any restriction on their use. They were played twice in open court.

"There are no words as strong as the faces of these residents," Hilliard said. "It's a place past fear. It's a place where they have almost accepted that the school where they're locked into could very well end up being a coffin for them."

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the state schools, says the agency was "shocked and disgusted by the unconscionable actions of a few employees." Spokesperson Cecilia Fedorov said the department has taken a number of steps to "stop this kind of abuse again," including hiring additional security and increased supervision of night shifts.

Former Employees Indicted, Charged With Causing Injury to a Disabled Person

Six former employees were indicted last Thursday on charges of causing injury to a disabled person.

Prosecutors identified the ring leader as Timothy Dixon, 30, who police say can be heard on the video calling the play-by-play of the fight as if he were a ring announcer.

Dixon and the others are to make their first appearance in court at an arraignment hearing next week.

The cell phone videos are the latest example of troubling conditions at the 12 Texas schools for the developmentally and mentally disabled.

A federal civil rights investigation, completed last December before the cell phone videos were discovered, found that more than 800 employees had been suspended or fired "for abusing facility residents" since 2004.

The federal report, sent to Texas Governor Rick Perry, concluded, "numerous conditions and practices at the Facilities violate the constitutional and federal statutory rights of their residents."

Perry, a Republican, introduced "emergency legislation" in February designed to make the state schools safer.

Some state legislators say the problems began with Perry administration budget cuts in 2003 that reduced money for health and human services in Texas.

"I think what you are starting to see now are the negative effects of those decisions," said State Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat who represents Corpus Christi.

A spokesperson for Governor Perry told ABC News the governor was too busy dealing with the state legislature to provide an interview on the new cell phone videos.

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