PEABODY – The mother of slain mental health worker Stephanie Moulton has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against North Suffolk Mental Health Association, Inc., saying the agency “didn’t do anything to protect my daughter.”
Moulton, 25, was fatally stabbed in the basement of North Suffolk’s 110 Ocean Ave. group home on Jan. 20. Prosecutors arraigned home resident Deshawn Chappell, 27, on a first-degree murder charge in Suffolk Superior Court on March 25 in connection with the slaying.
Kimberly Flynn’s lawsuit on behalf of her daughter states that “as a result of Chappell’s criminal and mental health history … he was an unsafe and inappropriate person for placement” with North Suffolk.
The suit states that Chappell was placed into the Ocean Avenue group home by North Suffolk with “a long criminal record including but not limited to charges of multiple assaults, weapons violations, robbery” and other charges.
“She was left alone with a man who had a criminal record,” Flynn said, adding North Suffolk’s managers and directors “were responsible and had to be aware” of Chappell’s record.
North Suffolk Chief Executive Officer Jackie Moore declined on Thursday to discuss Flynn’s lawsuit. “Our policy is not to comment on matters in litigation. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Stephanie and her family,” Moore said.
The suit filed by attorney Barry Feinstein of Peabody names 21 North Suffolk employees, including members of the agency’s board of directors, and two doctors, who, according to the suit, “provided services” to North Suffolk.
The lawsuit states agency directors “negligently failed to set and enforce policies necessary to protect interests and safety” of North Suffolk employees. It also states North Suffolk “negligently failed to adopt and enforce a reasonable policy” for screening clients before accepting them.
Following Chappell’s March court appearance, his attorney Jeffery Karp described Chappell as a schizophrenic who had been repeatedly hospitalized.
The lawsuit states that North Suffolk employees and consulting doctors “were actually aware that Chappell had not taken his medications for control of his mental illness for an extended period of time.”
“As a result of the operating policy, employees were prohibited from taking any action to ensure that Chappell took his medications for control of his mental illness,” the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit contends North Suffolk’s operating policies did not leave the Ocean Avenue home with enough employees to handle clients with “criminal or violent backgrounds.”
“Staffing levels placed Stephanie in contact with a very dangerous person,” Feinstein said.
Prosecutors said in court that Moulton was the only North Suffolk employee in 110 Ocean when Chappell attacked her.
In addition to suing North Suffolk, Flynn said she is working with state Sen. Frederick Berry, D-Peabody, and other legislators to pass laws mandating increased security in mental health residences and requiring agencies to equip workers with “panic buttons” allowing them to alert security or police if they are in danger.
Flynn and her family are sponsoring a benefit Saturday night at the Peabody Elks, 38 Oak St., from 7 p.m. to midnight. She looks forward to honoring her daughter with friends and family but said, “it’s not getting any easier for any of us.”