Using a DNA search to identify her mother’s alleged rapist, a Rochester-area woman is suing the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities for allegedly failing to properly supervise the now shuttered local facility where her severely developmentally disabled mother was housed.
In a lawsuit filed last week, Magdalena Cruz alleges that the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities breached its duty of care by allowing her biological father, an employee of the Monroe Developmental Center, to abuse her mother. Identified only by the initials I.C. in the brief, Cruz’s mother, now 66, is currently a resident in a Penfield facility, the court action states.
Cruz filed the complaint on her mother’s behalf as her mother’s legal guardian. Court papers describe I.C., who was 30 when she became pregnant with Cruz, as having “the mental acuity of a two-year-old, in diapers and unable to talk, feed, or bathe herself.”
Raised by her grandparents, Cruz, 36, knew she had been conceived in a rape, but because MDC covered up a longstanding pattern of sexual abuse of residents by its employees, had to spend years uncovering the sadly shocking details of her birth, the court action alleges.
According to the brief, Cruz started investigating the circumstances of her birth three years ago, filing freedom of information requests to the city of Rochester, Brighton and the OPWDD, “learning that the facts surrounding her birth were far more shocking and grotesque than her family had realized.”
Two breaks allowed Cruz to pursue the recently filed court action: the state’s passage of the New York Adult Survivors Act and an Ancestry.com DNA search that yielded the identity of her mother’s alleged rapist, James Burrus.
The court action details allegations of sexual abuse of residents by various MDC caregivers dating to 1974 when the facility was first opened. MDC, which had been managed by OPWDD, was closed by the state in 2013.
Through research, Cruz determined that Burrus was an MDC employee when her mother was impregnated and that MDC records showed a strong likelihood that Burrus, identified in MDC records as J.B., had, according to internal reports, been frequently “attacked” by Cruz’s mother.
Cruz presented evidence she had gathered to the Brighton Police Department in 2019, which confirmed that Burrus had worked for MDC in 1985 and that he had been familiar with Cruz’s mother. Because the alleged rape occurred long past a statute of limitations, police took no action, however.
Passed last November, the Adult Survivors Act opens a one-year window for victims to sue perpetrators over sexual abuse that otherwise would have fallen past the statute of limitations.
Cruz’s grandparents first learned their daughter, I.C., was pregnant with Cruz in 1986, when I.C. was five months along. Cruz was born in August 1986.
Happy to bring their daughter closer to their Rochester home, Cruz’s grandparents had moved I.C. to MDC’s Culver Road facility from the Newark Developmental Center in Wayne County, where I.C. had been housed since age 10.
According to Cruz’s court complaint, MDC officials told Cruz’s grandparents that they believed another resident had raped Cruz’s mother and that they were investigating and planned to file a police report.
“These were lies,” the complaint states. “In fact, MDC had covered up the rape, just as it had covered up the escalating pattern of cuts and bruises on I.C.’s body during her pregnancy, including a bruise in the shape of a cross, and a bite mark on her breast.”
“Unbeknownst to I.C.’s parents,” the court action adds, “MDC had been plagued with claims of gross neglect, physical and sexual abuse of patients, and other types of mismanagement rampant throughout New York State institutions, from its very inception.”
Among allegedly documented instances of sexual and physical abuse of MDC residents the court action cites are:
■ The 1974 arrest of seven MDC employees for sexual abuse of a teenage boy while other workers looked on;
■ The discovery of a 49-year-old therapist in bed with a 15-year-old female resident that resulted in a successful lawsuit against MDC;
■ The death of a resident who had swallowed five surgical gloves in 1982; and
■ The 1982 death from hyperthermia of a 21-year-old quadriplegic who had been left unattended in the sun for four hours without fluids.
“At least 10 (MDC) staff members from 1976-1985 were identified as pedophiles and rapists, including staff supervisors, security guards, and volunteers,” the court action states.
“My mother has had a hard life, and I hope this lawsuit will help her get the care that she deserves after OPWDD failed to protect her from her attacker 37 years ago. I live a blessed life and I thank God for my amazingly supportive husband and five kids, who give me the strength to lead with compassion and grace every day,” Cruz said in a statement released by Crumiller P.C., the Brooklyn firm handling the lawsuit.
“The safety and well-being of the people we support is OPWDD’s highest priority. We cannot comment on pending litigation,” says Erin Silk, a department spokesperson.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].