State police arrest trio of Sunmount employees for assault, lying on record

TUPPER LAKE — State police arrested three Sunmount employees, all Tupper Lake residents, on Saturday, saying two of them fought with a resident in November and that the third worker lied about it.

Joshua D. Beitter, 35, and Magnus S. Stalhammar, 44, were each charged with second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent person, and third-degree attempted assault. Barbara Botala, 56, was charged with making a false written statement.

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

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 resolved with police intervention as the state Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs was established in 2013 to handle such cases.

In September, several state Supreme Court judges questioned the Justice Center’s authority to prosecute, saying the center’s prosecutors are not elected, as county district attorneys are, and that their power in the courts is nill.

The Justice Center has also been criticized by activists for people with developmental disabilities such as Michael Carey, whose son Jonathan was killed by staff at O.D. Heck, an OPWDD facility in Schenectady, for rarely prosecuting cases and keeping investigations out of the public eye.

“Although the state police are involved, the county prosecutor has to take full control of this case and ensure that proper criminal investigations and evidence collection actually happen,” Carey said of the latest Sunmount arrest.

Dave McMahon, a retired former Sunmount employee who worked with Beitter, said the long time OPWDD employee knew physical situations rarely have positive outcomes. Take downs occur semi-often at OPWDD facilities and though they certainly do not result in an arrest every time they often result in administrative leave.

“Josh [Beitter] is not one to look for trouble,” McMahon said. “He’s not one that will look for an altercation. He’ll do almost anything he can to get away from it.”

McMahon said these altercations arise because the facility for the developmentally disabled has too many gray areas in its behavior support programs. He said there is not enough training today for employees in the absolute rules of how to deal with residents who do not want to do what staff tell them to do.

Regarding the resident’s minor injuries, McMahon said they did not sound out of the ordinary. When residents are unruly and are restrained by staff, the facility’s carpet and tile floors are not forgiving, he said.

“That occurs almost in every takedown,” McMahon said.

All three suspects were released with appearance tickets returnable to the Tupper Lake town court on at 5 p.m. Wednesday.