BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A now-former worker at a Salem group home for mentally challenged adults was found guilty yesterday of slapping and kicking a resident who did not want to eat his lunch one afternoon last December.
“Sir, let me tell you something,” Salem District Court Judge Matthew Machera told Noah Martin Jr., 50, of Lynn, moments after the jury’s verdict. “Not only did you fail in your duty to this person, you became a perpetrator. Instead of caring for that person, you made him a victim.”
Martin was found guilty of two counts each of assault and battery on a disabled person and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, the shod foot he used to kick the disabled man “like a soccer ball,” as one witness testified.
Machera sentenced Martin to a suspended 18-month jail term, with three years of probation that will include anger management classes, a ban on working with disabled or other vulnerable people, and an order that he stay away from the victim, the witnesses and the Turning Point group home on Buena Vista Avenue in Salem where he had worked part time for 10 years.
The incident took place on Dec. 9 in the dining room of the group home, where the victim is one of four residents.
The victim, who was unable to testify, suffers from autism, mental retardation, obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette’s syndrome and relies on the assistance of the staff for meals and other areas of his daily life.
George Knowlton, a full-time employee of the home, arrived for work around noon and heard Martin “screaming at the top of his lungs,” he testified under questioning by prosecutor Heidi Sylvanowicz.
Knowlton said he signed in on a computer, then went to assist another resident with lunch, as Martin continued yelling.
The victim was “just sitting there, trying to eat his lunch,” Knowlton told jurors. Though workers are not allowed to yell at residents, Knowlton said he was preoccupied at first with the meal he was giving the other resident.
But as the yelling continued, the victim “flung his lunch off the table. At that point, Mr. Martin was enraged,” Knowlton testified.
Knowlton said Martin grabbed the slightly built victim by the arm and threw him to the floor, demanding that he clean up the mess he had made.
He described the victim, who is about 5 feet 4 inches tall and so underweight that he was being given Ensure as a nutritional supplement, as “frozen in fear,” his glasses askew on his face.
Knowlton said Martin kicked the victim twice in the backside “like he was going to kick a soccer ball.”
“This was no accident,” Knowlton testified. “I got up and tried to intervene and asked Noah to leave him alone.” Knowlton said Martin picked up the man, put him in his chair, then slapped him in the back of his head twice.
Knowlton told Martin to take a walk, he testified.
Defense lawyer Rosalyn Stults suggested in her questioning that Knowlton’s account wasn’t credible, asking him to describe the specific locations of each assault and the dimensions of the room.
Stults was cut off repeatedly, however, by the judge, who ruled that some of her questions were improper, such as when she began to ask Knowlton about his own employment history and any past complaints against him.
The judge could be heard warning Stults at one point that he was “very close” to declaring a mistrial after she tried a second time to elicit testimony about any complaints against Knowlton.
Later, the area administrator of the group home, Linda Bleau, testified that after learning of the incident, she launched an internal investigation and notified the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, as required by law.
Bleau told jurors that after interviewing all of the witnesses and the victim and his mother, she fired Martin and contacted Salem police, who filed criminal charges against Martin.
Stults tried to suggest that the group home’s protocols were not followed and questioned the delay in reporting the incident. She later argued to jurors that Knowlton’s account “doesn’t make sense” and tried to suggest that Knowlton had a motive to lie because he hadn’t followed the proper protocol.
But Sylvanowicz, the prosecutor, said that he had.
The victim “put his faith in Mr. Martin” to care for him, said Sylvanowicz. Instead, he was abused by an angry man who was “sick and tired” of caring for the victim.
It took the jury just 20 minutes to reach a verdict.
Sylvanowicz had urged the judge to impose a 21/2 year jail term, calling Martin’s acts “egregious.”
Martin, who also works full time as a computer programmer for the state’s Executive Office of Administration and Finance, earning approximately $60,000 a year, had made an attempt to resolve the case short of trial yesterday, but he balked at admitting guilt. He contended that what a co-worker saw as kicking was simply his attempt to pick up the resident by bracing his foot first.
When Judge Robert Brennan said he would not accept a plea deal in which Martin did not admit guilt, the case went to trial.
Martin’s lawyer argued that a conviction would prevent her client from regaining his firearms license, which he uses when taking part in Revolutionary War re-enactments.
Martin is a member of “His Majesty’s 10th Regiment,” portraying a British soldier during the Revolutionary War, according to the group’s Facebook page and another area re-enactor.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.