Local News

Friday, Jan 17 2014 12:16 PM

Video of death at group home released by family of the victim

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    Group home resident Joseph Adam Lynch, his back to the camera, is shown on a security video as a confrontation between Lynch and an employee of the group home begins July 9. Lynch was pronounced dead a short time later after suffering from positional asphyxiation.

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    Joseph Adam Lynch is shown in a photo provided by Chain Cohn Stiles.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

The security video shows a sudden punch thrown and a brief struggle as three, then four men hold Joseph Adam Lynch face-down against the floor.

Less than three minutes later, when the 27-year-old Bakersfield man stops moving, the realization sinks in:

You're watching a man die.

The video, released Friday, is connected to a wrongful death lawsuit filed last month in Kern County Superior Court on behalf of Lynch's family. It claims employees of Mountain View Ranch Residential Care were not sufficiently trained -- and that they used improper restraint techniques after Lynch, a developmentally disabled resident of the home, punched an employee in the face July 9.

The lawsuit claims the employees never bothered to check Lynch's pulse or look to see if he was still breathing, even as he lay dying.

The family is suing the residential care facility operated by Nankil Enterprises, the employees present that day and Kern Regional Center, a nonprofit that coordinates services to people with developmental disabilities. The home care facility, located at 3046 Hinsley St., east of Weedpatch Highway, contracts with Kern Regional Center to provide a home for developmentally disabled adults.

The family understood that the video would eventually become public record, said the family's attorney, Matt Clark, of Bakersfield law firm Chain Cohn Stiles.

"They asked us to release it on our terms," Clark said Friday as he showed the video to a small group of journalists at the firm's downtown offices.

Lynch suffered from Fragile X syndrome, Clark said, a genetic condition that can include learning disabilities, cognitive impairment and social and behavioral problems.

In many ways, the 5-foot-4-inch, 200-pound home care resident was like a child in a man's body.

The coroner's office ruled the death a homicide and determined that Lynch suffocated due to "positional asphyxiation," a cause of death often associated with police restraint cases involving subjects placed face down. Obese people may be particularly vulnerable to positional asphyxiation.

The 25- to 30-minute video, which was broken into four separate clips before Clark received it from the Kern County Sheriff's Office through a subpoena, begins with Lynch approaching a group home employee and apparently asking for a cigarette. When the request is refused, Lynch appears to strike the employee in the face with his fist.

They go down in a confused tussle as other employees approach to assist. Strangely, another resident of the home appears to join the fray.

Lynch, who was obese and apparently suffered from high blood pressure, was placed on his belly. Details are not always clear in the video, but it appears that various employees -- and the resident -- used their weight to pin him to the floor.

According to investigators' interviews of those involved, no one said they checked Lynch's vitals or performed CPR after he stopped breathing, Clark said.

On the contrary, as staffers wait for deputies, one can be seen calmly washing dishes as Lynch remains apparently unconscious on the floor.

Clark called their behavior "callous."

"He lays on the floor, non-responsive, and nobody is doing anything to help him," he said.

When deputies arrive, they find Lynch unconscious. They turn his limp body over and begin performing chest compressions, most of which can clearly be seen on the video.

The chest compressions appear to have no effect.

Lynch is placed on a gurney and is taken to Kern Medical Center. He is pronounced dead a few minutes later.

Officials from Kern Regional Center did not return calls and messages for comment Friday. Patrick Nankil of Nankil Enterprises declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit, except to say his prayers are with the affected family.

County prosecutor Mark Pafford, who heads the criminal division for the Kern County District Attorney's Office, said sheriff's investigators referred the case to the D.A.'s office for prosecution, but the case was sent back to the sheriff's office for further investigation.

That's where it remains.

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