CLEVELAND — A jury on Tuesday acquitted three former employees of an Ohio treatment center for troubled teens of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 17-year-old girl who suffocated and choked on her own vomit after being restrained facedown on the floor.
Cynthia King, Lazarita Menendez and Ebony Ray were also found not guilty of child endangering in the December 2008 death of Faith Finley. Menendez was also found not guilty of felonious assault and inciting to violence.
Menendez faced additional charges because she initiated the incident by taking Finley's CD player, which the disruptive 17-year-old used to calm herself, and shoved the girl's hand under her as she lay on the floor, prosecutors said.
The women, who pleaded not guilty, were fired from the Parmadale Family Services center after Finley's death. The Cuyahoga County coroner ruled Finley's death a homicide.
The type of restraint prosecutors say the women used was later banned by Gov. Ted Strickland at the recommendation of state agencies that said the technique carries a high risk of serious injury or death.
Ray, of Broadview Heights, and Menendez, of Bedford Heights, were accused of wrestling Finley to the ground on her chest and applying pressure to her back — a technique known as prone restraint — while King watched.
Assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor Maureen Clancy said King told the other two women to leave after Finley calmed down. King, of Warrensville Heights, dozed off in a nearby chair as Finley lay on a tile floor, and she checked on the girl about two hours later when another youth alerted her, the prosecutor said.
"All of these ladies were very sorry for what happened but it was just something that didn't rise to the level of a crime," said Ray's attorney, Patrick Talty. "They are certainly happy it came out the way it did. I think it came out the correct way."
Kevin Spellacy, who represented King, agreed with verdict.
"It's still not a happy day when there's a dead child, but what the jury said is that it was an accident," he said. "It doesn't make things any better, but it was an accident."
There was no immediate comment from Menendez' attorney, David Doughten.
Jill Flagg, an attorney representing Finley's family, said Tuesday that the family was disappointed with the verdict, but nothing would have brought the girl back.
"A mother is still without her daughter," Flagg said. "A sister is still without her identical twin and best friend."
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason's office said there were no winners in the case, noting that King, Menendez and Ray would have to live with the memory of Finley's death.
Cleveland-based Catholic Charities, which operates Parmadale, says the organization has cooperated with authorities and taken measures — including extensive training of staff members — to ensure that residents are kept safe.
Center director Tom Mullen said Tuesday that the workers violated the center's personnel policies and will not be rehired.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Finley's family last year against Parmadale, Catholic Charities and the three workers was settled last month. The lawsuit had sought at least $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, but both parties were prohibited from discussing details of the agreement.
Associated Press Writer Thomas J. Sheeran contributed to this report from Cleveland.