ROCKLEDGE, Fla. – The family of a disabled woman who became pregnant in the group home she lived in has retained an attorney days after one of her caregivers was arrested.
Police say DNA results prove Willie Shorter, the woman's caregiver and an employee at Bridges for nine years, is the father.
“Our thoughts and concerns are for the daughter's care and recovery, which, at this point, will be a very long road," the victim's family said in a news release from the law firm of Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath.
The family and attorney will hold a news conference about the arrest Monday.
“Our firm will conduct a full investigation of this incident to determine what measures will be taken against Bridges and the long-term care of the Blanchard’s daughter. She suffered years of abuse and the facility never reported the assault and never terminated Mr. Shorter’s employment," attorney Kevin Smith said.
However, according to David Cooke, the president of Bridges, they reported the incident to the Department of Children and Families and Rockledge police immediately after the victim became pregnant in 2015.
"We went through all of the counseling with her and, of course, immediately called," Cooke said.
The first claim
Rockledge police said in 2015, it was challenging getting the story. Detectives said the victim has the mentality of a small child and couldn't tell the difference between a truth and a lie.
"She was challenged and she was not able to help herself throughout the whole process in telling us. She also gave us multiple names," Rockledge Deputy Police Chief Donna Seyferth said.
The second claim
Seyferth said detectives collected some DNA then, but the investigation led them nowhere, until the victim came forward again with abuse allegations in 2018. This time, police said the victim named Shorter.
"He denied it," Seyferth said. "So we offered him an opportunity to clear his name, and he took up the opportunity by submitting his DNA."
Seyferth said investigators collected Shorter's DNA in April of 2018, and the results from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were returned to the Rockledge Police Department in July. However, it wasn't until last Friday the detective on the case knew the results were in.
"We are looking into that as our own matter, which added the additional months," Seyferth said.
Regardless, police said the results, at 99.9 percent match, proved Shorter was the father. He was arrested at the Bridge's Woodsmere location, where he still was working as a caregiver.
Continued working as a caregiver
"We continue today to be devastated," said Bridges president David Cooke.
Cooke said since the investigation went nowhere after the first allegations in 2015, Shorter continued working at the Springwood Estates group home location, where the victim had been living.
"At the time, the individual mentioned several potential fathers," Cooke said. "Nothing came of the investigation."
It wasn't until the victim came forward naming Shorter a second time that Bridges suspended Shorter. It was about the same time Rockledge police were getting his DNA, according to Cooke.
"Because of what had happened, we thought, for all parties concerned, that Mr. Shorter should transfer to another group home, not that he had been charged with anything, but as protocol. That's what we did, and we moved him to another group home," Cooke said.
When asked why Shorter wasn't just terminated after the second allegation, Cooke said it was because he hadn't been officially charged.
"He was working with us because he wasn't charged with any offense," Cooke said. "Now, in retrospect knowing that, of course we are devastated."
Cooke said DCF is in the process of interviewing all the clients at both Bridges group home locations. Rockledge police are asking any other potential victims to come forward.
Shorter was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious behavior on a disabled person and bonded out of jail Thursday.
A woman at his Rockledge home Friday said she couldn't answer any of News 6's questions.