Lawsuit alleges abuse at state health center

Monday, June 3, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A federal lawsuit by two women allege their sons were slammed face-first on a hardwood floor and battered by staff members at a Missouri-run mental health center in Marshall, Mo.

The U.S. District Court lawsuit, filed here last month, alleges that the abuse at the Marshall Habilitation Center -- owned and run by the state's Department of Mental Health -- was part of a ritual in the summer of 2000.

According to the lawsuit, some staffers also forced the boys to take cold showers, struck them in the head with encyclopedias, made them walk like ducks and hit them in the back of the head.

"It shocks the conscience," said Roger Brown, a Jefferson City attorney who filed the lawsuit. "We believe that the supervisors at least had actual knowledge this was going on and didn't do anything to stop it."

Donna Uhlmansiek, a St. Charles woman who sued on behalf of her son, now 12, joined in the case with Brenda Barks, a New Haven mother whose son, Nicholas Kreftmeyer, is 16.

Anne Deaton, director of the state's Division of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, said Friday she had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

Serving sentences

The lawsuit names 11 defendants, including five workers accused of striking the boys. The five include Vincent Lee Ballenger, who worked as a developmental assistant; nurse Lisa Ann Topel; and developmental assistants Llewellyn Strohlin, Christine Cage and Jack Davis Jr.

Ballenger is serving 20 years in prison for child abuse involving the August 2000 incident. Strohlin pleaded guilty to charges of child abuse and is serving a 12-year sentence. Topel is serving five years after her guilty plea. Criminal cases against Cage and Davis are pending.

The lawsuit also alleges that administrators failed to protect the boys.

One of those supervisors was fired and three resigned or retired.

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