Rockledge caretaker fathered child with woman with disabilities, police say

Victim had mental capacity of child, report says

ROCKLEDGE, Fla. – An employee at a Rockledge facility for people with disabilities was arrested Wednesday after police said he fathered a child with one of the disabled clients, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.

Willie Shorter, 58, of the 1300 block of Briarwood Drive, was charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a disabled person. He was being held Thursday at the Brevard County Jail on $15,000 bail.

Shorter was "direct support staff" in charge of helping care for the adult client and other developmentally disabled people at a group home with Bridges, according to president and CEO David Cooke.

Police described Shorter as a "caretaker" in his arrest report.

Bridges is a nonprofit centered in Rockledge that provides services for people with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities.

In January 2015, staff discovered the woman, who police said in a report had "the mental capacity of ... a small child," was pregnant, Cooke said.

Bridges immediately contacted Rockledge police, the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, he said.

Shorter was questioned during the initial investigation but denied the allegations. There was not enough evidence at the time to require a DNA sample from him, according to his arrest report.

The baby was born in May 2015 and adopted by the woman's family, Cooke said.

Shorter voluntarily submitted a DNA sample last April, after the woman told police he had touched her genitals, according to reports. On Wednesday, the DNA came back a match with the child, police said.

Shorter was arrested about 2 p.m. at one of Bridges' group homes, Cooke said.

The four-year-long investigation had a number of things working against it, said Rockledge Deputy Police Chief Donna Seyferth. The disability of the client, difficulties relating to the pregnancy, the involvement of a child and the slow pace of DNA testing all posed challenges that slowed progress.

"Unfortunately, forensic science doesn't always move as quick as we like," Seyferth said. "We're glad to be able to have some closure in the case."

Seyferth said Bridges, the nonprofit's officers and staff, and the woman's family had been fully cooperative throughout the investigation.

A Bridges employee for about eight years, Shorter was kept on staff after the initial investigation on the advice of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Cooke said.

"We decided he could return to work because he was not charged with anything, but we decided he should not work at the same home," Cooke said.

Shorter is no longer employed at Bridges following his arrest, Cooke said.

"We've been in Brevard for 62 years serving people with disabilities. We are absolutely devastated," Cooke said. "This is devastating for the client, for the family. It's devastating for the staff who work so hard everyday, working for our clients with significant disabilities."

Employees must undergo rigorous background checks, including FBI screening, every five years, Cooke said. Potential hires are also checked against national and state sex offender registries and are screened for drug use.

"We do everything to make sure our staff are qualified and above board," he said.

Shorter was arrested once and charged with misdemeanor battery in 1997, but the charges were later dropped, court records show. He has no criminal convictions in Brevard County.