E N Q U I R E R   S P E C I A L   I N V E S T I G A T I O N
In Ohio, people suspected of striking, kicking or stealing from mentally retarded victims rarely get punished.

Sometimes, they get paid off.

Since 1997, the state has paid 18 workers more than $150,000 to leave institutions where they were suspected of abusing or neglecting mentally retarded residents, The Cincinnati Enquirer has learned.

Officials were so determined to get rid of a Guernsey County worker suspected of hitting a mentally retarded woman in the head with a shoe that they paid him $75,000.

State officials say they can't always fire the workers because civil service rules protect them with lengthy appeals.

The payoffs are one result of a statewide law enforcement system that routinely fails to investigate and punish those who abuse and neglect mentally retarded citizens.

''I put one person in jail in my entire career,'' says Ken Ritchey, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation. ''It was an egregious case, and even then the only reason we got him is he confessed.''

Read the full story

About this project
Enquirer reporters Debra Jasper and Spencer Hunt and photographer Michael E. Keating spent 10 months crisscrossing the state, interviewing the mentally retarded, their families, advocates and officials. They traveled to dozens of places, from rural Vinton County in Appalachia to Lake County, bordering Lake Erie.

Ms. Jasper is Statehouse bureau chief. She has covered politics and government for 16 years.

Mr. Hunt is Statehouse bureau reporter. He has written about politics and government for 10 years.

Mr. Keating, a 23-year-veteran photographer, covers everything from sports and politics to breaking news.

To contact Debra Jasper:
E-mail: djasper@enquirer.com
Or call: 614-224-4640

To contact Spencer Hunt:
E-mail him at: shunt@enquirer.com
Or call: 614-224-4640

To contact Michael E. Keating:
E-mail him at: mkeating@enquirer.com
Or call: 513-768-8401

Inside the Report
Abuse, neglect go unpunished
Caregivers accused of hurting the mentally retarded are rarely prosecuted - sometimes they're paid to leave.

Statewide abuse registry lists no one
The list is supposed to keep bad workers out of homes and institutions, but there are no names on it.

Detective's experience is valuable and rare
Monique Shafer is the only officer in Ohio's six major cities or counties working full-time on crimes against the mentally retarded.

Who's accountable
The agencies and departments charged with prosecuting crimes against the mentally retarded.

Photographer's album
A visual journey into the lives of Ohio's mentally retarded.

Ohio's Secret Shame

Part 1Part 2Part 3

The Findings
A special Enquirer report reveals many people are mistreated and the system is too overwhelmed to help them.

Among findings:

At least 12 mentally retarded Ohioans and probably many more have died in questionable circumstances in the past four years.

Deaths from all causes jumped 78 percent, and reports of neglect and other serious incidents quadrupled. Yet there's little public accounting.

The state found problems so serious at 65 institutions and nursing homes that it threatened to shut them down. It never closed one.

Some county caseworkers are supposed to watch over 125 people at once five times the state's recommended number sacrificing quality care.

Taxpayer support is so uneven that one Ohio county spends $43,800 a year on each mentally retarded person while another spends just $2,800. More...