Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

June 20, 2014

GBI raids Brooks care home

Agents rescue 10 residents

MORVEN — A two-month Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe into allegations of exploitation, abuse and neglect in an assisted-living facility led Thursday to the rescue of 10 disabled residents and the arrest of six people, including the facility’s owner.

Uplift Inc., 7752 Georgia Highway 133, billed itself as an “independent living facility” capable of housing 35 individuals with “mental health issues and those individuals which are homeless,” according to the company’s website.

On Thursday morning, the GBI joined by the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, Morven Police Department and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office executed two simultaneous search warrants at the Morven facility and at 7478 Chase Way in Hahira, a home that often served as a residence for Uplift’s owner, Tyrone Terrell, 59, of Jacksonville, Fla., said GBI Special Agent Steven Turner.

The investigation was initiated by an incident where an Uplift resident broke into a nearby residence for food, said Turner.

“We had one resident who went over the fence and broke into a house across the street at 5:30 in the morning,” said Morven Police Lt. Terry Griffin. “All he did was raid the fridge, but when the homeowner pushed him out the back door he realized he was from (Uplift).”

The Georgia Department of Community Health, Benchmark Human

 Services, Adult Protective Services, South Georgia Ambulance, the Southern Circuit District Attorney’s Office and Brooks County Victim’s Assistance worked with investigators to transfer Uplift residents to different facilities Thursday morning.

“All these people were hungry. We fed them and got them taken to other homes,” said Griffin. “People started clapping in the breezeway, even crying. They were so happy to leave.”

Turner considers the raid a rescue operation.

“The clients there were making due the best they could. This is a rescue operation,” the GBI agent said. “I feel like they feel they have been rescued and are going to a safer place.”

The owner and several of Uplift’s volunteers and employees who lived at the facility are charged in relation to taking food stamps and other federal benefits from clients and using them for personal gain, said Turner, but details of physical abuse have not been released.

Uplift’s sub-standard living conditions are also at issue and were readily evident Thursday morning. The facility was surrounded by flies, the building did not have air conditioning and it was guarded by a large black dog chained to a post outside of the main entrance. Media was warned not to get too close to the building because it was infested.

“It’s infested with bed bugs, scabbies and crabs. It’s infested bad,” said Griffin.

Agents arrested and charged six individuals Thursday morning. Tyrone Terrell is charged with operating a personal care home without a license, eight counts of exploitation, abuse and neglect of a disabled adult and simple battery. Donald Randall, 56, an Uplift volunteer from Morven, is charged with five counts of exploitation, abuse and neglect of a disabled adult and aggravated assault. Robert Klock, 28, a volunteer from Hahira, is charged with exploitation, abuse and neglect of a disabled adult, aggravated assault and battery. Wilbert Davis, 56, a volunteer from Morven, is charged with three counts of exploitation, abuse and neglect of a disabled adult and simple battery. Paul Graham, 53, an Uplift resident from Morven, is charged with exploitation, abuse or neglect of a disabled adult and aggravated battery. Denise Dermody, 63, an Uplift resident from Morven, is charged with exploitation and abuse and neglect of a disabled adult, reports stated.

“I want to stress that there are people who run personal care homes that do a very good job. They do what they are supposed to do, but when we have a home like this — we had one like this in Thomasville last August — we are sending a message that abusing these people and exploiting these people is not going to be tolerated in the state of Georgia,” said Turner. “We are going to do something about it, and we will bring criminal charges on you if we have to.”

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