PITTSBURGH — Two former caregivers at a Beaver County facility for those with severe disabilities have been indicted by a grand jury on federal hate crimes charges related to abuse of patients in which prosecutors said the men beat residents and then bragged about it in vulgar texts, in one case saying, “Dude, we really (expletive) our clients up today.”

Zachary Dinell, 28, and Tyler Smith, 31, both of whom had been prosecuted previously in the state court system, now face 12 federal counts related to the systematic abuse of 13 patients with disabilities at McGuire Memorial in Daugherty.

The two are charged with 11 violations of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act as well as concealment of material facts related to health care in not reporting the abuse and lying to their bosses about the condition of the patients. The concealment count relates to the fact that McGuire Memorial receives funding through Medicaid.

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The grand jury handed up the indictment under seal last Wednesday and the case was unsealed the following day in federal court.

Dinell is already in state prison, serving 10 to 31 years. Smith was taken into custody last Thursday and appeared briefly before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Dodge, who released him on a $25,000 bond.

Federal prosecutors can bring hate crimes cases — or file other federal charges — against defendants already prosecuted in the state system for the same set of facts, although defense lawyers often decry such prosecutions as double jeopardy violations or government overreach.

The most recent high-profile example is the case of three Georgia men convicted in February of federal hate crimes in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was jogging in their neighborhood. The men were convicted of murder in state court, but the U.S. attorney’s office brought a hate crimes prosecution on the same set of facts.

Dinell and Smith are accused of hate crimes based on the McGuire Memorial residents’ disabilities, prosecutors said. The maximum penalty is 10 years in federal prison.

“The defendants are charged with targeting the most vulnerable members of our community because of their disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung. “The defendants’ alleged hate crimes involved victims who were unable to defend themselves or report what happened to them.”

Dinell and Smith are accused of conspiring to commit “violent, humiliating and demeaning” acts against their patients, including punching and kicking them, rubbing caustic substances in their eyes and choking them, in many cases filming the acts on cell phones and sharing the videos with each other.

The grand jury said the pair took advantage of the fact that the patients are nonverbal and couldn’t report the incidents.

Dinell used his cell phone to send Smith videos of beatings and other abuses, the grand jury said, and both sent each other texts in which they described their violence, their hatred for the residents and their wish for them to die.

The texts will be the key to the case because, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, the messages show animus towards the residents. Prosecutors will use the context of the messages to try to prove that the abuse was motivated by hatred based on disability.

The indictment spells out numerous examples of Dinell and Smith texting each other about what they were doing to the helpless residents.

In one text on Sept. 24, 2016, Dinell explained to Smith that they looked at the residents as “less than people.”

In another text a few days later about a person identified as Resident 1, Smith told Dinell that the victim “won’t be satisfied until he gets thrown off the highest point of a steel cage onto concrete to put him outta his misery.”

Dinell later texted that he was “thinking about throwing (Resident 1) in the dumpster out back and burying him so they’d take him out with the garbage but then I remembered his sheep instincts would kick in and someone would hear him.”

The indictment contains many examples of the two joking about beating residents and in some cases taking videos while kicking and punching them, choking them, spraying them with icy water and engaging in other acts of brutality.

On Dec. 17, 2016, for instance, Dinell sent Smith an expletive-laden text about what he had already done to Resident 3 and how he was “about to suffocate him.” Smith responded, “Hahahaha kill his (expletive) ass.”

In January 2017, Smith texted Dinell and bragged about rubbing irritating liquid into the eyes of patients, the grand jury said.

The indictment recounts multiple incidents in which the men filmed themselves or talked about rubbing substances into residents’ eyes, which they jokingly called “sanitizing.”

Smith, who according to court records pleaded no contest in state court to endangering children and received probation, was scheduled to be arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court. Prosecutors said Dinell, who is in state prison in Fayette County, will be arrested at a later date. No attorneys were listed for either defendant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan said McGuire Memorial fired both men and cooperated with the investigation.

In a statement, the facility thanked the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI for pursuing the case.

© 2022 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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