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No Charges In Girl's Restraint Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 11, 2005

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA--Mecklenburg District Attorney's Office announced last week that charges would not be filed in the restraint-related death of 12-year-old Shirley Arciszewski.

Shirley, who had bipolar disorder, died on September 11 of last year after a group home worker laid across her back and refused to get up when the girl said she couldn't breathe.

An autopsy showed that Shirley died of asphyxia (suffocation) caused by the woman laying on her while she was face-down on the floor.

According to the Charlotte Observer, Assistant District Attorney David Graham said there was not enough evidence to charge 45-year-old Valisia Gaye Callahan with a crime.

"It did appear to me that Ms. Callahan used poor judgment in her use of physical force . . . but the evidence is insufficient to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Callahan restrained her in a criminally negligent manner," Graham explained.

Graham said that a 10-year-old girl who was in the Covenant Group Home at the time gave officials "two significantly different versions of what she saw." In an early statement, the girl told police she was watching television and was "not really paying attention" to what was going on between Callahan and the other girl.

In a statement two days later, the girl said the worker and Shirley got into an argument over a ball. When Shirley started to run to the door, Callahan stopped her, pushed her, then pulled her to the floor by her hair and laid down on top of her, the child said. When Shirley said she couldn't breathe, the worker told her she'd be okay, the girl said in the second statement.

Officials are not sure why the girl gave entirely different accounts of the incident.

After the death, the state Department of Health and Human Services closed the home and fined its owners $10,000.

In an editorial published Friday, the Charlotte Observer condemned the state for a lack of oversight of group homes, and its reliance on for-profit agencies to operate group homes for North Carolina's children with disabilities.

"Criminal charges rejected in death of girl" (Charlotte Observer)
Editorial: "No one can be held responsible for Shirley's death?" (Charlotte Observer)


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