Former Employee of PA Health Care Facility Pleads Guilty to Federal Hate Crime Charges Related to Assaults Against Disabled Residents
Tyler Smith, 32, of New Brighton, Beaver County, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, and one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, before United States District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan.
According to admissions made during Smith’s plea hearing, he and co-defendant Zachary Dinell were employees of an in-patient health care facility located in New Brighton.
Residents of the facility suffered from a range of severe physical, intellectual, and emotional disabilities, and required assistance with all activities of daily life, including bathing, using the bathroom, oral hygiene, feeding, and dressing.
As members of the facility’s Direct Care Staff, Smith admitted that he and Dinell were responsible for providing this daily assistance to residents. From approximately June 2016 to September 2017, Smith further admitted that he and Dinell engaged in a conspiracy to commit hate crimes against residents of the facility because of the residents’ actual or perceived disabilities.
Smith and Dinell carried out assaults in a variety of ways, including by punching and kicking residents, rubbing liquid irritants in their eyes, spraying liquid irritants in their eyes and mouths, and in one instance removing a resident’s compression stocking in a manner intended to inflict pain.
Several of these assaults were recorded on Dinell’s cell phone.
In one instance, Smith admitted jumping on top of a 13-year-old minor, while the child was lying prone on his bed, and while Dinell filmed the incident on his cellular phone. Smith further acknowledged that immediately after recording the video, Dinell texted the video to him.
As part of the conspiracy, Smith also acknowledged that he and Dinell exchanged text messages in which they expressed their animus toward the disabled residents, shared photographs and videos of residents, described their assaults, and encouraged each other’s continued abuse of residents.
Smith further admitted that he and Dinell were able to avoid detection by, among other things, exploiting their one-on-one access to residents of the facility and the fact that the victims were non-verbal and could not report the defendants’ abuse. Due to their physical disabilities, the residents also were not able to defend themselves against the assaults.
The maximum penalty for the conspiracy charge is a term of imprisonment of five years and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the hate crime charge is a term of imprisonment of ten years and a $250,000 fine.
As part of his plea agreement, and subject to the approval of Judge Ranjan, Smith has agreed to a term of imprisonment of not less than 60 months and not more than 120 months.
Zachary Dinell previously pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced on January 26, 2023, to 17 years of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release.
Assistant United States Attorneys Carolyn J. Bloch and Brendan J. McKenna are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation leading to the indictment in this case.
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