By Spencer Hunt and Debra Jasper
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Gov. Bob Taft: He says he's ''heart-sickened'' about reports of abuse and neglect. He appointed Lorain County Prosecutor Greg White to head up a task force of lawyers, prosecutors and judges to find ways of better prosecuting abusers. Almost seven weeks after Gov. Taft announced his task force, Mr. White remains the only member.
Department of Mental Retardation: It runs 12 state institutions, inspects 1,300 private nursing and group homes and is supposed to monitor all 88 county mental retardation boards. Yet it just started tracking county reports of abuse and neglect last year.
Director Ken Ritchey acknowledges that suspected abusive workers are sometimes paid to leave their jobs. It's difficult to fire them under civil service rules, and the workers might sue, he says. ''This is an issue. If you know how to solve it, I'd love to know.''
The Ohio State Highway Patrol: It's supposed to investigate all deaths, injuries, thefts and suspected crimes inside the state's 12 public institutions. In 1999 and 2000, the patrol arrested just three people in 139 cases investigated. All three charges were dismissed.
Patrol Superintendent Kenneth Morckel says his police agency is not responsible for convictions, only investigations.
''We gather the facts and send them on to the prosecutors,'' he says. ''Other than testifying, our job's done. We can have our opinions, but the prosecutor is the one to make the decision.''
Ohio Attorney General's Office: This office is supposed to investigate suspected crimes against the mentally retarded in private nursing and group homes, when cases are referred by local police or residents who call to complain. Attorney General Betty Montgomery says her office doesn't track the number and kinds of crimes it handles against the mentally retarded, but perhaps should.
''It's an idea that has merit,'' she says. ''If you don't look at what kinds of cases are out there, you can't see what the problems are.''
Her agency's investigations helped convict 10 people in the past five years.
Local police and sheriff's departments: They, too, are supposed to investigate suspected crimes against the mentally retarded in private homes, yet none of Ohio's six major cities or counties tracks such cases.
Lt. Robert Evans of the Clermont County Sheriff's Department says caregivers often wait too long to file abuse reports or provide only sketchy information: ''What we wish we could have is more detailed records from the agencies. From what I've seen, there's not always a lot there.''
County and municipal prosecutors: They're supposed to prosecute criminal cases brought by local police, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Attorney General's Office. While a few cases are won, state and local law enforcement officials complain that most are dismissed or never make it to court.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen says prosecutors need more training to deal with difficult cases involving the mentally retarded: ''My office has 20 victims' advocates, but we don't have one who specializes in the mentally challenged and mentally disabled. It's something that I'm frankly just thinking about as I sit here.''