Sunmount employees plead not guilty in town court

TUPPER LAKE — Three Sunmount employees who have been accused of fighting with a resident and falsifying records about the incident pleaded not guilty in Tupper Lake town court Wednesday evening before town Justice Leonard Young III.

Joshua Beitter, 35, and Magnus Stalhammar, 44, both of Tupper Lake, were each charged with second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent person and third-degree attempted assault, both misdemeanors. They were represented by attorneys Brian Barrett and Greg LaDuke, respectively. Barbara Botala, 56, of Tupper Lake, was charged with making a false written statement, a misdemeanor, and was represented by attorney Edward Narrow.

The charges originate from a report of abuse Nov. 3, when police say Beitter and Stalhammar fought with a 26-year-old male resident of Sunmount, who suffered bruising and minor scrapes.

Young said there is a chance Stalhammar and Beitter may face felony charges, in which case their trials would be moved to the Franklin County court in Malone, and that he is waiting to hear from the district attorney’s office about whether it will pursue those charges. He said Botala, who has a misdemeanor charge, will stay in the Tupper Lake court system.

They were all released on their own recognizance, and another court date was set for Jan. 17 for the three to appear again before Young.

They have been suspended without pay from their positions at the Tupper Lake facility.

Sunmount is a state-run residential care network for developmentally disabled people that is part of the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and is based in a former veterans hospital in Tupper Lake. Abuse allegations in OPWDD facilities are not always handled with police intervention, as they were here, as the state Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs was established in 2013 to handle such cases.

“The safety and well-being of people with developmental disabilities is OPWDD’s number one priority,” OPWDD’s Deputy Director of Communications Denise DeCarlo wrote in an email. “The abuse or neglect of anyone we serve is completely unacceptable.”