Its mission is “to empower children and adults with disabilities to lead fulfilling lives.”
But a couple of former LifeScape employees are accused of victimizing the people they were supposed to help lead fulfilling lives. And that’s not the only issue the non-profit organization is facing.
Former LifeScape employee Samantha Wiesler made her way into court on misdemeanor charges of abusing a young woman with developmental disabilities who she was supposed to be caring for.
Angela Kennecke: Are you Samantha?
Kennecke: Can I talk to you about the case against you?
27-year-old Wiesler is accused of assaulting a 21-year-old woman with Angelman Syndrome, who can only say one word– “mom.” Wiesler’s job was to give her one-on-one assistance.
But on March 3, LifeScape called police to report scratches, finger marks and bruises on the victim. The victim’s injuries were also confirmed by a doctor at Child’s Voice, a clinic that evaluates suspected abuse cases.
Detectives were able to watch a video of what happened because each resident at this home has a camera in their room.
According to court documents that video shows the victim having an accident on her bed and Wiesler saying, “What the f…., what the f…” After that, the victim resisted Wiesler’s orders. According to court papers, the video shows Wiesler pinching the victim, pulling her hair and shoving her into a dresser. The video depicts Wiesler pushing the back of the victim’s neck and pushing her head toward the floor as she resists helping Wiesler clean up the mess.
Later, Wiesler is seen on the video lifting up the back of a couch the victim was sitting on and forcing her to roll onto the floor and then Wiesler is seen pulling the young woman’s hair.
Wiesler was fired and told detectives she would, “never intentionally hurt someone,” and that she was quote, “probably frustrated; I don’t know,” but that she didn’t remember anything that she did. She also admitted she had pulled the victim’s hair in the past.
Over the phone, the victim’s mother told KELOLAND News she had watched the video of her daughter being abused. She told me it was difficult to watch, but that she doesn’t blame LifeScape for Wiesler’s actions and her daughter continues to live there.
Wiesler is back in court next month.
She isn’t the only former LifeScape employee facing criminal charges.
In a separate case, Jodi Kay Aulner, a LifeScape Community support supervisor at a group home on West 43rd Street is accused of stealing more than $1,000 from three residents with developmental disabilities, under her care, last spring. LifeScape had conducted its own internal investigation into the missing money and reported it to police.
Aulner, who was authorized to write checks on residents’ accounts, is accused of making them out for various amounts to “cash” and providing fake receipts about where the money went.
In an interview with police, Aulner admitted to writing the checks and pocketing the money, saying she had fallen onto hard times and planned to pay the money back.
A warrant was issued for Aulner’s arrest last September, but no trial date has been set. Avera Health confirms to KELOLAND News that Aulner is now working for them.
We spoke with one of the relatives of one resident whose account Aulner allegedly wrote checks on. He said none of the victims could protect themselves from what happened and that LifeScape has paid the families back all the missing money.
We asked LifeScape CEO Anne McFarland for a response to these incidents. At first, she said she would answer questions only via email. After being sent the questions, McFarland responded with this statement:
Out of respect for the privacy of the people we support, we will not be releasing any information at this time. Our primary focus is on the children and adults we support. We provide the resources necessary to help them to lead fulfilling lives. Our long established people-focused policies and procedures guide us each day as we provide compassionate care to the people we are fortunate enough to serve.
There have also been two deaths at LifeScape that may have been preventable. In fact, KELOLAND News has learned that violations of the abuse, neglect and exploitation policy at LifeScape have prompted the Department of Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities to put the organization on a plan of corrective action.
Watch that part of the investigation on KELOLAND News at 10.