What to Know
- Two former Chester County youth workers are accused of recording a fight between 2 kids and posting it on social media.
- Officials say the incident took place at the Devereux Kanner Center in West Whiteland Township back on July 5.
- Anthony Merrick, 25, of Coatesville, and Rayne Portela, 24, of Glenside, were both arrested and charged Thursday.
Two former workers at a Chester County youth center are accused of encouraging two children with intellectual and developmental disabilities to fight each other, recording the fight, posting it on social media and laughing about it.
Anthony Merrick, 25, of Coatesville, and Rayne Portela, 24, of Glenside, were both arrested and charged with failure to report or refer, endangering the welfare of children, simple assault and harassment.
Officials say the incident took place at the Devereux Kanner Center in West Whiteland Township back on July 5.
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Officials say Merrick and Portela, who both worked at the center, observed two children, ages 12 and 13, fighting each other. Surveillance video showed Merrick and Portela watching the children fight and not intervening, investigators said.
Portela only stopped the fight briefly when the boys started kicking each other and a second time to wipe blood from one of the children, according to court documents.
“It’s child abuse again when you’re encouraging minors, and in this case, they’re not just minors but they have disabilities, which is why they were at Devereux,” West Whiteland Township Police Detective Scott Peizak said.
Investigators determined Merrick encouraged one of the children to fight the other and even recorded the incident on his cellphone. He also allegedly showed Portela the video and shared it with her through Snapchat. Neither employee filed a report which is required by their mandated reporter position at the facility, investigators said.
A third employee who witnessed the incident emailed a supervisor to report the incident when it occurred in July, investigators said. Despite this, police say they were not notified until a parent of one of the children reported it to them in October.
“The information did not come from Devereux. It came from the parent several months later,” Peizak said.
Merrick and Portela both turned themselves in at District Court in Exton on Thursday.
While the suspects no longer work for Devereux, NBC10 learned Merrick was still working as a youth counselor at another facility after the incident. A judge ordered that Merrick could no longer work there however and he and Portela are not allowed to have any contact with children.
NBC10 reached out to Devereux to ask why the alleged incident was not reported to police initially in July. A spokesperson from Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health responded with the following statement.
“In the time since this incident, we have had a series of very productive and positive meetings with local law enforcement. In fact, we provided law enforcement with the security video of the incident which they relied on to file these charges. The use of security cameras is not required in our programs, but we have proactively implemented a policy of employing video technology as an added safety measure. We are one of the few agencies in the state to do so.”
“Our staff receive comprehensive training before working in our programs, as well as regular child abuse clearances and FBI screenings. On an on-going basis they are provided with re-trainings on safe and effective practices that support our philosophy of care.
If a staff member allegedly violates our standards, we are more upset and outraged than anyone, and we are grateful to law enforcement for their assistance in helping us to provide safe, effective and compassionate programs.”