(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — A Pennsylvania man has been sentenced to 17 years in prison for violating federal laws when he intentionally harmed disabled residents who were in his care.
Zachary Dinell, 29, formerly of Freedom, was sentenced on Jan. 26. He had previously pleaded guilty to violating several federal laws including a count of conspiracy, 10 counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and one count of concealing material facts in a health care matter.
According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Pennsylvania, during his plea Dinell admitted to committing hate crimes against residents of an in-patient health care facility in New Brighton where he was employed. Dinell, and allegedly a coworker, punched and kicked residents, jumped on residents, rubbed hand sanitizer in their eyes, sprayed liquid irritants in their eyes and mouths, and removed a resident’s compression stocking in a way that was intended to cause pain for the patient.
Several of the assaults were recorded on Dinell’s cell phone. He and the co-worker allegedly exchanged text messages where they “expressed their animus toward the disabled residents, shared pictures and videos of residents, described their assaults, and encouraged each other’s continued abuse of residents,” the release said.
Due to their physical disabilities, the residents were not able to defend themselves against the assaults. Residents at that facility suffered from severe physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities and required assistance with all activities of daily life including bathing, using the bathroom, oral hygiene, feeding and dressing. The release said Dinell admitted that he and his co-worker “were able to avoid detection by, among other things, exploiting their one-on-one access to residents of the facility and the fact that the victims were non-verbal and could not report the defendants alleged abuse.”
The crimes occurred between June 2016 and September 2017.
In addition to the prison sentence, Dinell will have three years of supervision after he is released. He will be prohibited from seeking employment at any facility that provides care for juveniles or people with disabilities.
The release noted that a federal case against the co-worker is pending and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation that led to the indictment.