$64.6 million awarded in lawsuit claiming abuse of mentally disabled man at Gordon care home

A Wilkinson County judge has awarded a $64.6 million judgment against a Pennsylvania-based company stemming from claims that a mentally disabled man was abused at a Gordon care home.

A lien, or property claim, was filed against Columbus Organization; a subsidiary, Columbus Community Services; and 10 other defendants Feb. 22 for the judgment, according to court records.

Columbus Organization's website says the company is a leading provider of "on-site professional staffing and consultative services, focusing exclusively on agencies that serve individuals with special needs."

Betty Gill filed suit Nov. 4, 2015, on behalf of her son, 52-year-old Joseph "Joey" Allen Cason Jr.

Here's what happened, according to allegations in the suit:

Two years earlier, Cason had been a resident at a Total Care Community Living facility in Dublin.

Gordon Mayor Mary Ann Whipple-Lue's sister, Pamela Whipple Reaves, also known as Pamela Whipple Brezial, operated a Total Care day activity center in Gordon.

On Nov. 8, 2013, Cason was at the Gordon day activity center when he was "repeatedly and sadistically beaten and otherwise abused" by seven employees.

One employee attacked him with a belt 18 times. Another one knocked him over a desk. A third employee hit Cason with a belt and slapped him in the face. Another employee punched Cason in the face with a fist multiple times.

Three days earlier, Total Care employees had taken Cason to cast a vote for Whipple-Lue in the Gordon city election despite his mental incapability to vote -- and his Laurens County residency.

As the case management agency for Cason's care, Columbus Organization and Columbus Community Services were responsible for Cason's care and were negligent in failing to ensure Cason's well-being, the complaint maintains.

Superior Court Judge William Prior Jr. issued a default judgment in the case Jan. 5, 2016, saying the defendants failed to respond to the lawsuit by the Jan. 4 deadline.

Columbus Organization and Columbus Community Services had been served notice of the suit by certified mail, according to the judgment order.

"The failure of these defendants to respond results in their having admitted legal liability upon the complaint," Prior wrote.

Repeated attempts to reach a representative of Columbus Organization and Columbus Community Services were unsuccessful Monday.

After a hearing, Prior issued another order listing damages awarded in the case: $26,915,100 in compensatory damages, $26,915,100 in punitive damages and $10,776,040 in attorneys fees and expenses.

Initially, the suit also named Georgia's Department of Community Health and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, the Community Service Board of Middle Georgia, Middle Georgia Behavioral Services LLC, Georgia Support Services and five separate individuals. Claims against those defendants were later dismissed, though.

Macon attorneys Charles E. Cox and Brian Jarrard represented Gill in the suit as well as her son, who is receiving care in a different facility.

Contacted Monday, Cox said, "We're pleased that this is the first step at being able to get Mr. Cason the type of care he needs and deserves."

Jarrard said companies and individuals responsible for caring for defenseless people such as Cason should view that responsibility with the attention it deserves.

"We certainly want to ensure Joey is never abused again and receives the best possible care," he said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398 or find her on Twitter@awomackmacon.