Four more parents sue in incidents of children duct-taped in preschool van

The latest lawsuits allege that new video evidence shows the driver restraining more children with tape, or threatening to do so, on at least 9 occasions. (Courtesy of Penn Center for Mental Health)

The latest lawsuits allege that new video evidence shows the driver restraining more children with tape, or threatening to do so, on at least 9 occasions. (Courtesy of Penn Center for Mental Health)

Four additional families have filed lawsuits related to a 2018 incident in which several special needs children were tied up with duct tape by a preschool van driver in Philadelphia.

Three other parents earlier filed suit against several organizations involved in hiring driver Jerome Price to shuttle children to a therapeutic nursery operated by the nonprofit Children’s Crisis Treatment Center. Price is visible on van surveillance footage binding the three children by the wrists and ankles with tape during a trip on Nov. 21, 2018. He was later arrested.

But the latest round of lawsuits goes further. They allege that new video evidence shows Price tying up more children up with tape, or threatening to do so, on at least nine occasions during a three-month stint with CATCH, a nonprofit that handled van service for the preschool.

“I’m glad these families will now get their day in court, and that justice will be served,” said Tyler Tomlinson, an attorney with Stark & Stark representing all seven families in the lawsuits, which were filed in Common Pleas Court.

He said four additional parents came forward with similar accounts after a WHYY report about the incident that was published last week.

All the children were between the ages of 4 and 5 years old and enrolled at the preschool to receive therapy for behavioral issues ranging from hyperactivity to aggressive outbursts. Parents said the bizarre disciplinary measure caused their children additional and ongoing psychological trauma.

The four new claims were apparently corroborated by additional video from CATCH, entered as evidence in the underlying court cases. According to the new complaints, the footage depicts incidents that occurred on a number of different days during Price’s time on the job, in many cases as CATCH aides looked on.

However, Price himself is not a party to the civil suits, which instead target the dizzying network of companies that hired him and other drivers to provide transportation for Medicaid-eligible services in Philadelphia, such as those provided by Children’s Crisis Treatment Center.

The driver was referred to CATCH by temp agency Trinity Staffing, which is owned by Employer Solutions Staffing Group. CATCH, in turn, landed a contract to provide van service for Children’s Crisis Treatment Center students though LogistiCare, the nation’s largest manager of non-emergency medical transportation. LogistiCare currently holds the $141 million state contract to provide all Medicaid-eligible transportation in Philadelphia.

Even before Price was hired, Children’s Crisis Treatment Center –– which is not listed as a defendant in the four new lawsuits –– noticed that CATCH drivers and aides struggled to manage the behavioral issues of children they were expected to transport. The preschool began providing additional trauma-informed training to help familiarize transportation staff with ways to better handle children with behavioral health needs.

Price participated in one of those training sessions but opted for his own unorthodox methods to maintain order, using duct tape to restrain the children. Price later wrote in a statement to CATCH investigators that the tactic was a safety measure to prevent the children from kicking or punching each other or themselves.

The driver was fired shortly after a parent spotted bound children on his van and complained to preschool administrators. He was charged last year with child endangerment and other counts by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

In part because of the duct tape incident, Children’s Crisis Treatment Center began providing its own trained aides to accompany CATCH staff in each van. However, until its contract was abruptly terminated on Feb. 28 of this year, CATCH continued providing van service to the preschool and still provides transportation for other behavioral health programs across Philadelphia.

When asked to comment about the latest round of lawsuits, a LogistiCare spokesperson reiterated an earlier statement that said, in part, “if there’s even one case of alleged wrongdoing, it is investigated and swift action is taken if appropriate.”

However, when asked, the LogistiCare spokesperson did not offer any evidence that the company had initiated an investigation into the Price incident.

Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, Trinity Staffing, Employer Solutions Staffing Group, and CATCH did not respond to requests for comment on the new lawsuits.

Last year, the state considered expanding the LogistiCare brokerage model used in Philadelphia across Pennsylvania as a cost-saving measure. In December, the state Department of Human Services elected to keep the system as it is, with most counties contracting with smaller van companies directly, avoiding any overarching broker to dispatch or oversee the rides. The state is still considering reforms to non-emergency medical transportation providers across the state.

Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf, called the Price encounters “horrific” and said the incident would factor into any future reforms.

“These allegations underscore the need to carefully evaluate any proposed changes … and will inform the Wolf Administration’s analysis and discussion moving forward,” she wrote in a statement.

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