Former PA healthcare worker pleads guilty to hate crimes targeting disabled residents

(WJET/WFXP/ — A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty in federal court this week to a pair of federal hate crime charges related to targeting residents of a Beaver County healthcare facility with special needs.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of PA, Tyler Smith, 32, pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy and violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act after admitting he and another employee of a New Brighton, PA in-patient facility assaulted residents for their actual or perceived disabilities.

Smith and Zachary Dinell, 28, of Freedom, PA, provided one-on-one assistance daily to residents of the facility suffering from a range of severe physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities and required assistance with daily activities including bathing, using the bathroom, oral hygiene, feeding and dressing.

From around June 2016 to September 2017, Smith and Dinell allegedly conspired to and carried out hate crimes against the residents — which included punching and kicking residents, rubbing liquid irritants in their eyes, spraying liquid irritants in their eyes and mouths and removing one resident’s compression stocking to cause them pain.

Several of the assaults were also recorded on Dinell’s cell phone, including a video of Smith jumping on top of a 13-year-old minor lying prone on his bed which Dinell recorded and sent to Smith. The two also exchanged text messages expressing their animosity towards residents, shared photographs and videos of residents, described their assaults and encouraged each other’s continued abuse of residents.

Smith also admitted the two were able to avoid being caught by exploiting residents and the fact that the victims were non-verbal and unable to report the abuse, among other methods.

While subject to approval by Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan, Smith’s plead deal states he will spend at least 60 months in prison but less than 120 months.

Dinell pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced on Jan. 26, 2023, to 17 years in prison with three years of supervised release.