The Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania has released the following statement about a guilty plea entered by a former Beaver County man on hate crimes charges related to assaults against disabled residents in a nursing home facility:
A former resident of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty in federal court to federal hate crime charges, United States Attorney Cindy K. Chung announced today.
Zachary Dinell, 28, formerly of Freedom, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, ten 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 before United States District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan
According to admissions made during Dinell’s plea hearing, he and co-defendant Tyler Smith were employees of an in-patient health care facility located in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. Residents of the facility suffered from a range of 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. As members of the facility’s Direct Care Staff, Dinell admitted that he and Smith were responsible for providing this daily assistance to residents.
From approximately June 2016 to September 2017, Dinell further admitted that he and Smith engaged in a conspiracy to commit hate crimes against residents of the facility because of the residents’ actual or perceived disabilities. Dinell and Smith carried out assaults in a variety of ways, including by punching and kicking residents, jumping on residents, rubbing liquid irritants in their eyes, spraying liquid irritants in their eyes and mouths, and in one instance removing a resident’s compression stocking in a manner intended to inflict pain. Several of these assaults were recorded on Dinell’s cell phone. As part of the conspiracy, Dinell acknowledged that he and Smith exchanged text messages in which 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.
Dinell further admitted that he and Smith 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 defendant’s alleged abuse. Due to their physical disabilities, the residents also were not able to defend themselves against the alleged assaults.
The maximum penalty for the conspiracy charge is a term of imprisonment of five years and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for each of the ten hate crime charges is a term of imprisonment of ten years and a $250,000 fine. The scheme to conceal material facts likewise is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
As part of his plea agreement, and subject to the approval of Judge Ranjan, Dinell has agreed to a term of imprisonment of between 168 and 204 months.
The case against Smith remains pending, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Assistant United States Attorney Eric G. Olshan is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation leading to the Indictment in this case.