BY JENNIFER CABRERA
Wanda Denise Thomas, 59, an employee of both the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Easy Living Group Home, which is owned by Alachua County School Board candidate Diyonne McGraw, was arrested last night and charged with two felony counts of abuse of an elderly or disabled adult.
The arrest report states that a deputy from Alachua County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Easy Living Group Home at 2673 SE 18th Avenue in reference to a DCF investigation. According to the report, the business provides housing for mentally disabled adults, and the victims in this case are vulnerable adults due to intellectual impairments.
The case began with an anonymous report to DCF, alleging abuse to two or more residents in the home, specifically that the victims had been struck with a belt and had bruises on multiple areas of the body. Because Thomas, the suspect, is an administrative assistant at DCF in Alachua County, the investigation of the case was handled by a DCF investigator from Marion County.
The deputy reported that he spoke with a caretaker on site at the group home, and the employee said that the home is owned by Diyonne McGraw and that his direct supervisor is Rodney Johnson. The employee told the deputy that he had noticed bruises on two residents starting around March 11 and that he had documented the injuries with photos.
Interviews with the injured residents were difficult because the residents have difficulty communicating, but both were able to point to the locations of the injuries, even in cases where those injuries had healed. One resident reportedly mentioned “Wanda” and “belt” while lifting his shirt to show where he had been injured. Another resident still had visible injuries, including long, narrow bruises that are “consistent with being hit by a belt.”
Other residents who are high-functioning and better able to communicate stated that they had observed Thomas striking the two residents, one “due to his behavior” and the other “for not listening to instructions given by Wanda and for his random screaming throughout the day.”
Thomas’ supervisor at DCF told the deputy that Thomas had spoken with her about how difficult it could be at times to work at the group home. The report continues, “Wanda stated that she uses a belt to control the unruly residents to which [the supervisor] informed her that she cannot do that. Wanda seemed confused and asked why not before again saying that she does it and that her supervisor is aware that she uses a belt to hit the residents.”
The DCF supervisor also said that Thomas told her she has seen bruises on the residents, and the supervisor reminded her that she is a “mandatory reporter” who is required to report injuries to DCF when they are brought to her attention. The report states, “Wanda advised that she has not reported the injuries in fear of losing her job.”
Thomas’ supervisor at the group home, Rodney Johnson, reportedly told the deputy that he was not aware that Thomas used a belt or physically disciplined the home’s residents.
Thomas has been charged with two counts of abuse of a disabled adult; she has been released from the jail on her own recognizance with the condition that she not return to the group home.
Diyonne McGraw and DCF have not responded to our requests for comments.
Articles about arrests are based on reports from law enforcement agencies. The charges listed are taken from the arrest report and/or court records and are only accusations. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.