Metro-East News

Coroner’s jury: ‘Punishment’ shower death of Murray Center resident was homicide

Opponents of the proposed closure of Murray Center waved signs during a public hearing.
Opponents of the proposed closure of Murray Center waved signs during a public hearing. News-Democrat

The death of a resident at Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia while being given a “punishment” shower has been ruled a homicide.

A Marion County coroner’s jury ruled Thursday night that the death of 46-year-old Todd Clementz was a homicide. Clementz, a resident of the state-operated developmental center, was being given a punishment shower when he choked and died on March 30.

According to testimony at a coroner’s inquest Thursday night, a Murray Center employee was giving Clementz a punishment shower when Clementz began to choke. Clementz, who was deaf and blind, coughed up food particles and died.

Witnesses at the inquest included Illinois State Police Special Agent Tom Hatley, who described the shower given to Clementz as a “punishment” shower.

Marion County Coroner Troy Cannon said evidence suggests the employee had given punishment showers to residents on multiple occasions.

“Basically, there are indications that the employee had done this kind of thing in the past with this resident — and other ones, as well, even before this took place,” Cannon said.

Basically, there are indications that the employee had done this kind of thing in the past with this resident — and other ones, as well, even before this took place.

Marion County Coroner Troy Cannon

The matter has been referred to Clinton County State’s Attorney John Hudspeth, who could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

The state Department of Human Services, in a prepared statement, said the investigation is continuing.

Yesterday’s hearing is part of an ongoing criminal process and IDHS will not comment on that process until it is concluded.

Illinois Department of Human Services statement

“The Illinois Department of Human Services responded promptly to a death in one of its facilities, initiated its own investigation, referred the preliminary results of that investigation to criminal authorities, and has been cooperating with those authorities ever since,” the agency’s statement read. “Yesterday’s hearing is part of an ongoing criminal process and IDHS will not comment on that process until it is concluded. The department did take immediate action to put the individuals involved in this matter on administrative leave and will take further personnel actions as necessary in response to any criminal findings.”

DHS spokeswoman Veronica Vera declined to give the names of the two employees, who were placed on administrative leave shortly after the death.

Vera said one of the two employees has been fired, while the other remains on paid leave.

The coroner’s jury was convened in Marion County, because Clementz was pronounced dead at St. Mary’s Hospital, which is in the Marion County portion of Centralia.

A coroner’s jury has five possible rulings on manner of death: homicide, suicide, accident, natural or undetermined.

Murray Center was the subject of months-long battle over a state plan to close some state-operated developmental centers and shift residents to private group homes. After employees, relatives of residents and community members mounted stiff opposition to the cost-cutting move, the state relented and decided to keep the center open.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, was a lead supporter of keeping the Murray Center open. He said the case is not a bad reflection on state-operated developmental centers.

“It was Murray workers who questioned what happened and got this investigation going,” Meier said. “If this would have happened in a group home, it never would have been known about — it would have been considered an accidental death.”

It was Murray workers who questioned what happened and got this investigation going. If this would have happened in a group home, it never would have been known about — it would have been considered an accidental death.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville

Meier, who attended the coroner’s inquest, said testimony indicated that Clementz wanted to go to sleep, but the worker wanted Clementz to stay awake. A different employee had given Clementz a bath about 90 minutes earlier.

Meier said the employee who gave Clementz the shower had been hired within the year prior, during the time when the Murray Center was scheduled for closure. Meier said he thinks the employee was not fully vetted and trained.

Brian Brueggemann: 618-239-2475, @B_Brueggemann

  Comments