March 10, 2010 — -- A former Texas State School employee has changed his plea to guilty for his role in organizing "fight club" brawls between mentally disabled residents at a state school in Texas and using cell phones to videotape the abuse.
In a surprising move, Guadalupe De Larosa, 23, accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors Wednesday, prior to the second phase of arguments before a jury and after initially pleading not guilty. He admitted to three counts of injury to a mentally disabled individual and was sentenced to four years in prison.
"We're comfortable with this resolution," said Doug Mann, Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted the case. "It was a fair result."
The state had introduced video evidence showing De Larosa pushing and kicking residents to fight, which was corroborated by another former employee involved in the case, Stephanie Garza.
Garza, 22, testified she saw De Larosa videotaping the fights.
De Larosa was immediately taken into custody and will serve his time in a Texas prison.He and Garza are two of six former state school employees who were implicated in the case that made national headlines last spring.
D'Angelo Riley, 23, pleaded guilty to three counts of causing injury to mentally disabled residents and is serving a four-year prison sentence.
Jesse Salazar, 25, was sentenced to three years in jail, while Vincent Johnson, 22, received a two-year suspended jail sentence.
Garza was previously granted immunity by the State. Charges against her will be dismissed assuming she completes her obligation to testify in the case involving the alleged ring leader, Timothy Dixon.
Dixon, 30, is awaiting a decision from the Texas Court of Appeals to determine if gripping video evidence in the case can be used against him. Oral arguments are expected to begin next month. Last summer, Judge Sandra Watts dismissed explicit cell phone video showing the fights, to be used against Dixon. She maintained the phone was stolen property and that State prosecutors failed to prove the Dixon deliberately abandoned the phone.
The employees allegedly made nearly 20 cell phone videos over the course of one year.
"I believe these acts were not simply the act of rogue employees but occured because of the permissive environment allowed to exist in the state school system," said Bob Hilliard, an attorney for one of the victims.
He added, "The individuals further up the food chain, responsible for this broken system have yet to be brought in front of a jury."
As previously reported by ABC News, the alarming videos showed mentally disabled residents at the state school being forced to fight one another by the night shift staff, all for the employees' enjoyment. The videos were discovered by the police in Mar. 2009 after someone found and turned the cell phone over to them.
The case sparked outrage from mental health advocates, families of the mentally disabled and Texas legislators.
"It reminds us that the state must never be complacent in securing and ensuring the well being of our states' most vulnerable population," said Representative Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, shortly after the story broke.
Within days of the 'fight club' videos coming to light, and on the heels of a scathing U.S. Department of Justice report, the State of Texas agreed to spend $112 million over the next five years to improve the states' 13 residential facilities for the mentally disabled.
In addition, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that established an Office of Independent Ombudsman to audit the school biannually and serve as a liaison for parents, clients and guardians. The bill also requires video camera surveillance in common areas of each state school, mandates drug testing, fingerprinting and background checks of state school employees, and includes a toll-free hotline to report abuse, neglect and misconduct.