Sunmount employee charged with abuse

TUPPER LAKE – A local man is due in court next week on charges that he abused a resident of a house operated by Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Services Organization.

Derick R. Mandigo, 46, of Tupper Lake, was charged in April with endangering the welfare of an incompetent person and official misconduct.

Mandigo appeared before town Justice Leonard Young III for arraignment on April 10 and was released on his own recognizance. The case has been adjourned to May 15.

The charges were the result of a joint investigation by acting state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott, state police and the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.

Mandigo worked at what’s called an individual residence alternative facility, which houses people with developmental disabilities. He was a direct support assistant tasked with providing personal care, treatment and rehabilitation services to four residents of the house.

In August 2009, another worker captured cellphone video of Mandigo being verbally abusive toward a resident and striking the resident in the face, according to a press release from Scott’s office.

“Direct Support Assistants at OPWDD are charged with protecting and caring for our most vulnerable population,” Scott said in the press release. “As a caregiver, Mr. Mandigo’s alleged conduct was reprehensible and inexcusable. This joint investigation resulted in the removal of a danger to residents living in this state facility. Abuses of persons with disabilities in New York State will not be tolerated and will be thoroughly investigated.”

When OPWDD was first made aware of the situation, the agency identified Mandigo and the resident/victim and immediately placed Mandigo on administrative leave to ensure the safety of the residents of the house. At the same time, OPWDD referred the matter to the inspector general and state police, and the joint investigation commenced.

Mandigo admitted to authorities he was verbally abusive toward the resident and had struck the resident in the face, as seen on the video.

“There were verbal admissions, a written statement and then the video,” Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, who is prosecuting the case, told the Enterprise Wednesday.

Champagne said he’s not sure if Mandigo has resigned yet, but if he did or does, it would go a long way toward resolving the case.

“Obviously our main priority is that he’s no longer employed in that capacity,” Champagne said.

State and county officials were full of praise for the arrest.

“I thank the Inspector General’s office, the State Police and the District Attorney for their work and collaboration in taking action on this case,” OPWDD Commissioner Courtney Burke said in a press release. “OPWDD takes incidents of abuse in our system very seriously, and we have initiated comprehensive health and safety reform efforts around reporting allegations and preventing abuse, as we continue to promote positive relationships to strengthen the system for the individuals we serve.”

“This alleged criminal conduct involves some of our most vulnerable population and will continue to be aggressively investigated and prosecuted,” Champagne said in the release.

Champagne told the Enterprise there was more than one alleged victim, but the current charges only pertain to one.

A message left at a number listed for Mandigo was not immediately returned.

Prosecution problems

Champagne said it’s a big burden for his office to prosecute cases like this because his employees don’t have access to the medical records to be able to tell if a Sunmount resident is competent enough to proceed with court cases and able to legally give permission.

“We don’t have access to all sorts of private materials and information which helps make a case,” Champagne said.

He said he’s looking forward to a new state office that is planned to deal with the prosecution of these types of cases. That office will have protocol in place for dealing with roadblocks while his office must do it on a case-by-case basis.

“These cases can be very, very time consuming for small offices, and they can really drain resources,” Champagne said. “We’ll continue to do them so long as it’s our obligation, but obviously, once the new agency’s up and running, I think it will help us as far as not pulling resources away from other cases.”

His Tupper Lake office reviews hundreds of complaints a year from Sunmount, and the assistant district attorneys stationed there spend “an extraordinary amount of time” dealing with them, Champagne said.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or