October 11, 2002 12:00 am
By JOHN SKIPPER, Of The Globe Gazette
*This article is reprinted from The Globe Gazette.
MASON CITY - The head of Gerard Treatment Center of Iowa maintains
that Gerard personnel did nothing inappropriate in their actions
preceding the death of Tanner Wilson.
"Stupid things can happen - but it did not happen in the Tanner Wilson
incident," said Jim D'Angelo, chief executive officer of the treatment
center for children with emotional and behavioral disorders.
"We feel we know what happened quite clearly. We don't feel we were
inappropriate in the method of restraint or the necessity to
physically restrain Tanner," said D'Angelo.
Wilson, 11, son of Robert and Karen Wilson of Mason City, was a
resident at Gerard when he died on Feb. 9, 2001, shortly after being
restrained by Gerard employees. One of the employees, Lori Meacham,
was charged with child endangerment, but the case was dismissed at the
request of the Iowa attorney general's office, the prosecutor in the
case. A civil suit brought by the Wilsons against Gerard, Nexus (the
parent company of Gerard), Meacham and another employee, Jeremy Witt,
was settled out of court.
Dr. Dale Andres, Cerro Gordo County medical examiner, ruled Wilson
died of cardiopulmonary arrest.
"Tanner was physically held down. There is no evidence of suffocation.
This occurred because of a unique situation with Tanner because of his
physical condition at the time and the medications he was on," said
"Gerard has been in operation for over 25 years and nothing like this
has ever occurred. This wouldn't happen in another million uses of
restraints," he said.
Gerard is an affiliate of Nexus, a Minneapolis-based company that has
a network of facilities such as Gerard. D'Angelo is CEO of both Nexus
and Gerard, but said that in this context, he was speaking solely as
head of Gerard.
He said he did not want to give the impression that Gerard does not
make mistakes. "We dropped the ball in the incident involving the
20-year-old employee who tied up the boy with a necktie and bathrobe
belt. That, of course, should never have happened and the employee
involved was fired.
"Up until that time, we did employ some people who were under the age
of 21. The law allows that. But after that incident, we changed our
policy even though we were in compliance because we can't have things
"But we have not changed any of our policies as a result of Tanner
Wilson's death, contrary to what the Wilsons' lawyer says. And no one
was disciplined. The two employees involved found other employment but
that was not a part of any discipline, as has been alleged," said
Matt Novak of Cedar Rapids, attorney for the Wilsons, told The Globe
Gazette on Monday that as part of the settlement, the Wilsons wanted
assurances that what happened to Tanner would never happen again - and
that the departure of the two employees and some policy changes had
"I think their lawyer is trying to win a case in the court of public
opinion that he couldn't win in the courtroom," said D'Angelo.
But Novak said Thursday that Gerard documents verify that use of new
forms to document physical holdings went into effect May 16, 2001, and
that new federal regulations on use of physical restraints went into
effect July 20, 2001. "Mr. D'Angelo told me under oath that he didn't
even know what the policies were on Feb. 9 and that he didn't know
what type of physical restraints were being used. He referred
questions on that to the clinical director."
With respect to employee discipline, Novak said, "They are no longer
there. That was my concern."
D'Angelo was asked why Gerard chose to settle out of court if the case
was thought to be winnable. He said, "The Wilsons' initial demands for
money were extraordinarily high. The demands got lower and lower as
the case began to unwind. As they got lower and lower, our insurance
company told us to settle. We had already paid legal fees in excess of
$100,000 and that was just going to increase. That is money that could
have been spent on the needs of children.
"We wanted this to go to trial. We wanted all of the facts to be put
on the table in a public forum. But our insurance company told us to
settle and we settled," he said.
Novak said, "No settlement demand was even made until 2-3 weeks before
the settlement was reached. And one of the terms of the settlement was
that neither side discuss it."
D'Angelo said, "We offer our condolences to the Wilson family. We are
tremendously sorry that it happened. They have lost a child and
nothing can make up for that."
He said Gerard's reputation has been tarnished because of all of the
adverse publicity for nearly two years. But he said it is still held
in high regard.
"Even in the worst of days, we have always had a waiting list. That's
because placement agencies know the job we do. We have certainly been
wounded but we still have support for how we deal with the most
difficult children in Iowa.
"This has reinforced some things in our mind. Life is precious. Even
with the best of training and best of intentions, bad things can
happen. Our staff has been through a lot. They are truly committed to
kids and I am tremendously proud of them for how they have worked
Looking to the future, D'Angelo said Gerard needs to connect better
with the people of Mason City. "We have not been as much a part of the
Mason City community as we need to be," he said. "We have been in
terms of physical structure, but we haven't brought the community on
board to help bring the campus closer to the life of the community."
Gerard, which has operations in both Iowa and Minnesota, has 55
employees at its Mason City site.
Reach John Skipper at 421-0537 or firstname.lastname@example.org.