Chelsey Payne, a 30-year-old employee with Palm Coast-based East Coast Habilitation Options, was caring for a 20-year-old client at the Palm Coast Community center three weeks ago when a community center employee noticed something gravely amiss.
The employee’s attention eventually led to a call to the Sheriff’s Office and Payne’s arrest on a third-degree felony charge of abusing a disabled adult. Payne, of San Mateo, posted bail on $7,500 bond and was released after her booking at the county jail on Dec. 5.
At first the 58-year-old employee noticed the client and his caretaker in a confrontation, as if he weren’t being compliant, then hitting his own head on the wall. At one point the employee sought help from another East Coast staffer who was in the playground. East Coast Habilitation Options, which goes by the name Echo, bills itself as helping “children, teens, and adults with autism, intellectual disabilities and behavioral challenges.”
In this case, the 20-year-old client was diagnosed with autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and mood disorder. He was one of five clients Payne and two other Echo staff members had taken to the community center’s playground, but Payne and the 20 year old separated from the group for about 30 minutes.
The employee asked Payne if she could be of help, perhaps call someone to assist, only to be directed toward the playground, where she noticed Payne becoming more physical with the client. She observed Payne and someone else in the playground of the community center, keeping the 20-ywear-old patient’s face against the ground while she held his arm before the pair of Echo employees moved the client to a vehicle.The incident took place between 3:30 and 4:10 p.m. on Nov. 22. The next day, the community center employee contacted the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and the center turned over surveillance footage.
The video showed the patient and Payne approaching a water fountain. The patient is holding a cookie and getting a drink from the water fountain. Payne is on her cell phone. She looks irritated with the patient. The 28-second segment of video footage shows Payne trying to get his attention as he again takes a drink. Payne then in quick succession grabs his throat three times with her right hand, backing up the client against a wall as he keeps trying to get away from her.
She grabs his arm, casing him to drop the cookies. The video then skips, suggesting that there’d been stretch when neither was visible. They reappear again in the same vestibule area, outside one of the conference rooms, where the client pushes Payne away, but she reaches and pulls at his ear, gets in his face, points at the corner, grabs his throat, and strikes him in the face. The whole time, the client has his two hands up in a defensive posture.
It was at that point that, in footage the sheriff’s office did not release, the community center employee is seen approaching Payne and the client and walking outside to the playground, where Payne forced the 20 year old to the ground by the neck.
East Coast habilitation Options is an 8-year-old company based in Palm Coast, owned by Alvin Collins and Maryann Reiter. Neither returned a call fore this article initially published.
By the time a deputy made contact with Reiter and Brian Turner, an administrative employee at Echo, part of the incident had been reported to the administration by a co-worker–and that Payne had been fired. But the account of the incident only described what took place in the playground, not inside the community center, according to the arrest report.
“This supposed ‘caretaker’ clearly did not show any care or compassion while she was abusing a disabled person,” said Sheriff Rick Staly. “We send our deepest sympathies to the victim and their family.” He commended the department’s major case detectives for solving the case quickly.
Tuner trains employees on interactions with clients with behavioral issues, and both Turner and Reiter, when shown the video from inside the community center, told a deputy that the grabbing of an individual’s throat, and striking that individual, are not regulation. One of the fellow-employees who was with Payne at the community center, 35-year-old Vaneque Miller, told a deputy that Payne claimed the client had struck her in the face. He described Payne as cursing and provoking the client, which led Miller to get into a confrontation with Payne about her behavior.