SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 15, 2013

Group home to pay fine in worker's slaying

Mentally ill resident accused of stabbing woman in 2011

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — The agency that operated a Revere group home where a Peabody social worker was allegedly kidnapped and killed by a mentally ill resident has agreed to pay a $7,000 fine and take steps to improve the safety of its employees, federal officials announced this week.

Stephanie Moulton, 25, of Peabody worked at North Suffolk Mental Health Association’s group home in 2011 when she was left alone with Deshawn Chappell, a then 27-year-old man with schizophrenia and a history of violent behavior. Family members said later that he had stopped taking his medications.

Chappell is charged with stabbing Moulton, then driving her in her own car to Lynn, where he left her body in a parking lot near a Lynn church. He was found later in Boston.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited North Suffolk in 2011 for failing to provide adequate safeguards against workplace violence.

Under the terms of a settlement reached between North Suffolk and OSHA, the agency has agreed to implement a violence-prevention program that includes “workplace controls and prevention strategies; hazard/threat/security assessments; a workplace violence policy statement outlining and emphasizing a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence; incident reporting and investigation” and periodic reviews, according to a press release announcing the settlement.

North Suffolk also must take other measures, including creating a reporting system for threats; a process of accounting for workers’ whereabouts; a “buddy system” for second- and third-shift workers and a process for requesting backup. The agency will be required to evaluate the behavioral history of residents; create a system, such as log books, to identify residents who might harm workers; and provide workers with a way of summoning help, such as alarms, two-way radios or cellphones.

North Suffolk has agreed to implement the changes at all of the group homes it operates.

“This resolution cannot restore the life that was taken,” said Marthe Kent, OSHA’s New England regional administrator. “But it can help prevent future injuries and loss of life.”

The settlement with OSHA is separate from a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Moulton’s parents, Kim Flynn and Robert Moulton, against the North Suffolk board of directors, the state and Chappell himself.

John Regan, one of the attorneys representing Moulton’s parents in the suit, said that lawsuit is still pending, with the parties wrangling over the exchange of evidence in the case.

The North Suffolk directors, as a group, have sought to dismiss the suit, an issue now under appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court, which may hear arguments this fall, said Regan. Meanwhile, Regan has been trying to obtain additional records, including Chappell’s chart, which would show what employees were told about his background.

Earlier this year, the Moultons succeeded in obtaining a copy of a Department of Mental Health report into the incident, but that report had been heavily redacted, with identifying information about employees blacked out.

Regan said, however, that the report does substantiate one of the main allegations in the civil lawsuit — that North Suffolk’s policy was to not provide information concerning a resident’s history of or propensity toward violence.

In the criminal case, in which he is facing a murder charge, Chappell is expected to be the subject of a status hearing on his mental competency Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court, where a trial date has been tentatively set for Oct. 7.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.