May 20, 2009 -- State officials in Texas have so far refused to answer requests to talk about cell phone videos of an alleged 'fight club' run by night shift employees at a residence for the mentally disabled, featured in an ABC News report last week. Following the airing of the report, the sister of one of the men forced to brawl in the video said authorities twice denied to her that her brother had been victimized.
"No one would call me back," said Michelle Crayton. "I was really upset, I do think they're trying to cover up."
Crayton was unaware that her mentally disabled brother, 44-year-old George Brazil, had been filmed fighting by the employees until she saw the report on ABC News last week. The video shows her brother being chased through the halls, trying to get away from the staff forcing him to fight. Near tears, he cries 'I'll behave'.
"They were bad," Brazil told ABC News. "It was bad because I was scared, you know. I mean I was very scared." Brazil has resided at the Corpus Christi state school for over 20 years.
"George is still afraid to talk about it," said his sister. " They told him if he ever told anyone about the story that he could get stitches, ' if you snitch, you get stitches'."
The five former state employees accused of running the so-called fight club all pleaded not guilty Tuesday in a Corpus Christi courtroom. They are charged with causing injury to a disabled person. A sixth is charged with failing to intervene.
The evidence against them includes the disturbing cell phone videos discovered by police when the alleged ring leader lost his phone.
The videos show mentally disabled residents of the state school being prodded into fighting one another by the night shift staff, which recorded it all for their apparent amusement.
Mental health advocates and lawyers say the videos are also evidence of a broken system statewide that is supposed to care for the mentally disabled.
"Unless they fix that system there will be someone else who comes in and does this or worse," said Bob Hilliard, an attorney suing the state on behalf Brazil's family.
So far, the only action from the state attorney general was a failed effort to prevent the tapes from being made public, saying he was trying to protect the privacy rights of the mentally disabled.
"I think it's to protect the inaction of the attorney general over the last year and a half," said Hilliard. "He wanted to protect their rights, but it was those very rights that he allowed to be violated."
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. All of the accused employees were fired.