HomeEducationFormer resident of school board member’s group homes says Diyonne McGraw’s employees instructed him to vote for her
Former resident of school board member’s group homes says Diyonne McGraw’s employees instructed him to vote for her
December 30, 2022
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Voting records from the 2020 election show that 29-year-old Destin Collins, a resident of one of Diyonne McGraw’s group homes, registered to vote and voted in the 2020 Primary Election. There’s only one problem, according to Collins’ mother, Melana Weems: Collins is legally incompetent to vote, and she says McGraw knew that because it is specified in the court order that names Weems as Collins’ Guardian Advocate.
Weems told Alachua Chronicle that her son said he was taken to a polling place and instructed to vote for Diyonne McGraw in the 2020 Primary Election (he said the group home manager filled out the ballot for him, but he was very clear that he knew he voted for McGraw); Collins also told his mother that he didn’t vote in any other races on the ballot. Voting records confirm that Collins voted early (in person) in the 2020 Primary Election, which included McGraw’s first school board race. Collins moved into the group home near the end of March 2020 and registered to vote as a Democrat, using the address and phone number of the group home, on April 15, 2020. Weems said Collins was never registered to vote before 2020, as far as she knows.
Voter registration records for the addresses of McGraw’s group homes show seven other people registered to vote, all as Democrats; three of them registered in 2020. It is unknown whether these people are prevented from voting for reasons of competency, but the group homes specifically serve people with developmental disabilities. Group homes are required by law to facilitate voting for residents who are qualified to vote.
“So hungry during COVID”
Weems provided Alachua Chronicle with documents showing that Collins weighed 242 pounds in early March 2020; he weighed 187 pounds in June 2021 and now weighs 162 pounds. Collins is legally totally incapacitated with spina bifida, and Weems said that as his Guardian Advocate, she was not aware of any need for a weight loss diet. Weems said her son told her he was “so hungry during COVID.”
Weems told us she met personally with McGraw in November 2022 and then submitted complaints to the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). Weems says that her requests to McGraw’s company for numerous reports have gone unanswered, that her son was made to sign papers that he is not legally qualified to sign, and that phone calls between Weems and her son were restricted for three days without explanation. She also says he was moved from one home to another without warning and without explanation.
Clients in group homes have specific rights, and the first right on the list is an “unrestricted right to communication,” including “reasonable opportunities for telephone communication.” Weems says her son’s rights were violated by the restriction on telephone calls.
APD has dismissed Weems’ concerns
In spite of the fact that the document naming Weems as Collins’ Guardian Advocate states that he lacks the decision-making ability to vote, to determine his residency, or to make decisions about his social environment or other social aspects of his life, an APD representative wrote to Weems to say that based on her guardianship documents, “you [sic] son/ward has the ability to make decisions that occur at the group home, which includes changing homes, service requests and when he participates in activities that occur within the home and community.”
Weems sent us a long list of allegations that Collins’ rights were violated while he was in McGraw’s group homes, but she said her complaints have been dismissed by McGraw, her son’s Waiver Support Coordinator, and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. She showed us several emails from APD that did not address her specific concerns, displayed a lack of familiarity with the court order establishing a Guardian Advocate, and suggested that she consider returning her son to the family home.
Termination of Collins’ placement
After Weems sent an email to McGraw on December 15, 2022, asking for an update on an incident that took place at the Oaks Mall in 2021, McGraw responded the same day and “terminated” Collins’ placement in her group home. The letter, addressed to Collins and signed by McGraw, said, “there comes a time when sometimes change is needed in this line of work, and your mom and you have expressed a desire for you to be closer to the family home.”
Weems said she had already started working on getting him out of McGraw’s group home when she received the letter; Collins is now at her home in Panama City.
McGraw: “These statements are false”
In response to a request from Alachua Chronicle for comment on allegations that Collins lost a great deal of weight while living in her group home, that his mother was prevented from communicating with him, and that he registered to vote and actually voted while living in the group home, McGraw responded, “These statements are false and if anything is published, I will be pursuing legal action against all parties involved.” She sent a separate email to Weems, also threatening to sue her for “trying to destroy my character and negatively impact my business.”
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