Person of interest in group home probe oversaw seven other boarding homes in Houston, authorities say

A man at the center of a probe into an overcrowded, unlicensed group home in Harris County has been tied to seven other similar Houston properties, for which he has been cited more than 200 times over a roughly three-year period, police said Thursday.

Carroll Shelton Richardson was identified this week as a person of interest by the Harris County Pct. 7 Constable’s Office, which on Monday removed at least 35 abused or neglected residents found living in “deplorable” conditions in the Caring Hands Group Home in the 14000 block of Long Meadow Drive. Most of the residents had been diagnosed with mental or physical disabilities, and some did not have any food or medication, according to the constable’s office.

Two deaths also had been reported at the home over the previous two months. State Sen. Borris Miles, whose district includes the home, said he visited the property this week and saw people “on top of each other” in an “unclean” and “unsanitary” space.

“I was truly upset when I got the call from Precinct 7,” he said. “I immediately rushed out to the home and I was even more horrified and devastated by what I saw.”

Miles said the home was “just a symptom of a larger problem, where those that are the most vulnerable are taken advantage of, abused and not taken care of properly.”

The constable’s office identified Richardson as the home operator. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has taken over the investigation, but Richardson already had been on the Houston Police Department’s radar for about three and a half years, said Officer Jason Llorente of the department’s Boarding Home Enforcement Unit.

Richardson, who could not be reached for comment by press time, previously identified himself as the owner/operator of seven other now-defunct boarding homes in the city that housed residents with mental and physical disabilities, Llorente said. None of those homes were permitted, as required by a city ordinance.

Over a three-year period, the boarding home unit hit Richardson with the citations carrying fines ranging from $500 to $2,000, for violations that included failure to provide access to medical records and lacking a certificate of occupancy, Llorente said. The homes each have different owners, some of whom also received citations, he said. All of the boarding homes have since closed.

“I contacted the owners, and they were willing to work with me, some of them,” Llorente said. “For others it took citations. But once it was addressed, they evicted Richardson.”

Llorente said he did not immediately recall whether any residents had died at the boarding homes in Houston. The two deaths at the Long Meadow home included a 64-year-old man who died Aug. 3 of natural causes. Information on the second reported death was not available Thursday.

An eviction notice was posted Thursday on the front door at the empty Long Meadow home, stating Richardson was on the lease with three other family members.

“Your lease agreement clearly states that the property is for private residence only,” the notice read.

Houston properties

When HPD first contacted Richardson, he had been operating the homes in Houston with his wife under the business monikers “Blessed Hands” and “Caring Hands,” Llorente said. Richardson continued operating the homes after his wife’s death two years ago with a business partner who performed routine maintenance, he said.

He said all of the Houston residents were either mentally disabled or elderly. The boarding home unit did not observe any obvious signs of abuse – or receive any such complaints – until one resident of a home in South Acres last November accused Richardson of elder abuse, Llorente said.

In that case, a resident who no longer wished to live there told police she asked Richardson to return her debit card “after she discovered the poor living conditions,” court records say. Later, surveillance footage from a gas station captured a fight break out between Richardson and the woman.

Richardson was arrested in February on a charge of injury to a disabled person. He has been wanted since March for bond forfeiture in that case.

Llorente said that victim was the only person removed by police from Richardson’s homes in Houston. The boarding home unit did not personally observe overcrowding, he said, adding that police often had to schedule home visits in advance.

“When we would go in the homes we would talk and interview the residents,” Llorente said. “If anybody wanted to leave we would always leave that option available. It was rare that (Richardson) would let us in, and recently he’s been denying entry and tells residents not to open the door to police or fire… so we can’t force entry at that point.”

Llorente added that Richardson became more difficult to reach over the phone. He indicated that Richardson’s residents were all part of vulnerable populations – including the homeless community – and therefore could have been afraid to report crimes.

Deputies discovered the Long Meadow home on Monday after the sister of a 62-year-old resident requested a welfare check. The resident told her he was being held hostage on the second floor.

Miles, the state senator, said all the mattresses were soiled, and some residents were sleeping in the garage.

“Residents, male and female, shared stories of drug and sexual abuse,” he said.

More oversight

A 2017 Houston Chronicle investigation found that the city provided little scrutiny, spotty inspections and inadequate enforcement of regulations at such facilities.

New local ordinances adopted in 2018 required that boarding home owners obtain a permit to house multiple elderly or disabled people. Other requirements include first-year building code inspections, a certificate of occupancy, framed beds, a list of resident names and annual life safety inspections.

However, those ordinances don’t extend to properties outside the city, such as the Long Meadow home. Llorente said the homes operated by Richardson highlight the limits of existing regulations. He hopes the legislature will create a new law that makes operating an unpermitted boarding home an arrestable crime statewide.

“If we had legislation to make this a Class B (misdemeanor), it would allow us to really clamp down on the boarding home owners who are never going to get permitted, no matter how many citations we write them,” he said.

Further complicating the push for oversight, unpermitted boarding home owners in Houston often receive patients from local hospitals, Llorente said. The operators have been known to solicit their services at medical facilities, he said. At least one of Richardson’s properties was listed as a referral option at a Texas Medical Center hospital, he said, declining to identify the facility.

Bryan McLeod, spokesperson for Harris Health System, said the hospital group is reviewing its processes for discharging patients who are housing insecure after learning about the Long Meadow boarding home. The health system, he said, cannot determine whether any of the Long Meadow residents had been discharged from its hospitals without their names.

“Harris Health supports establishing greater oversight of care homes and other residential group homes to assure the appropriate support for individuals in their residences is safely maintained,” said McLeod.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said it had “nothing to release publicly” about its ongoing investigation.

”All evidence will eventually be provided to the DA’s office to help them determine whether criminal charges are warranted,” the sheriff’s office said.

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