WILLIAMSBRIDGE — When Eduardo Sandoval’s mother visited her severely autistic son last June at the group home where he lives, the 24-year-old seemed anxious and in pain.
Thinking he might be injured, Sandoval’s mother lifted her son’s shirt. What she found left her screaming.
“She saw this huge burn mark and she got hysterical,” said Fernando Mateo, a family spokesman. “Then she took his shirt off and she saw he was burned all over his body. He was branded.”
Sandoval, who cannot bathe or dress himself and has the cognitive abilities of a toddler, had been burned on his arm, chest and side. At least one mark, in the wavy shape of a snake, appeared to have been made by a scalding metal potato masher.
On Monday, the family filed a lawsuit in Bronx Supreme Court alleging negligence by the facility operator, Leake & Watts Services, Inc., and assault by two staffers, Wendell Chavies and Asialone Edwards.
“It was a helpless 24-year-old man with the mind of a 2-year-old who was tortured by members of the staff,” said the family’s lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein.
Police arrested Chavies, but prosecutors could not build a case against him because he and Edwards blamed one another and Sandoval could not identify his abusers, Rubenstein said.
“We could not meet our burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt because of the victim’s medical condition,” said Steven Reed, spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. “It was not possible to determine who was responsible for the assault.”
A spokeswoman for Leake & Watts said that the agency investigated the incident and cooperated with police.
Employees “who we believed were involved with or failed to immediately report the incident” were fired, as was the manager of the facility at 954 E. 211th St., said agency spokeswoman Meredith Barber.
The agency also added new training and safety systems, Barber added.
“Leake & Watts has zero tolerance for abuse and neglect of the people we serve,” Barber said.
Sandoval’s mother, Mayra, admitted her son to the group home for developmentally disabled adults about two years ago out of concern that he might injure himself in the family’s high-rise apartment, Mateo said.
Sandoval remains at the facility while the family searches for a new permanent placement.
At a press conference outside the home Monday, Mayra Sandoval sobbed uncontrollably and could not speak to reporters. When she caught sight of a poster with photos of her son’s burns, she began to scream and had to be escorted to a car.
Saundra Simon, who lives across the street from the facility, said that Eduardo Sandoval had run naked into her yard a few times. On other occasions, she saw him naked on the facility's front porch, including in the dead of winter.
Staffers tried to coax him back into his clothes and to the facility, once by offering him cereal, Simon said. Twice, the workers called 911 and an ambulance and police officers arrived to help, she added.
“He’s a real big guy,” said Simon, 57. “They definitely couldn’t handle him.”
Her daughter, Carolyn, a corrections officer who once worked in a group home, said Sandoval’s behavior seemed to wear on some of the staffers.
“You could see that some were losing their patience,” said Carolyn Simon, 28.
Lalynda Long, who lives next door to the facility, said she heard “piercing screams” several nights a week that she was sure came from Sandoval’s bedroom.
“I always knew something was wrong,” said Long, 44. “I now know my gut was confirmed.”