Former Rockledge caregiver who impregnated client with severe disabilities takes plea deal

A former Rockledge caregiver for people with disabilities will serve eight years in prison after police said he had sex with a client with the “mental capacity of a small child,” resulting in the woman becoming pregnant and giving birth, according to police and court documents .

Willie Shorter, 62, was arrested in 2019 after police said he fathered a child with a woman with severe developmental disabilities under his care at the former Bridges adult care facility in Rockledge. He was charged with lewd and lascivious battery on an elderly or disabled adult, a second-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Shorter will serve eight years followed by seven years of probation on special sex offense conditions under a plea agreement reached earlier this month with state prosecutors. It is the lowest sentence allowed under state law, according to Shorter’s lawyer, Palm Bay attorney Daniel Martinez.

Shorter arrested:Bridges employee arrested after fathering child with a woman with disabilities, police say

Martinez called it the “best possible resolution,” given the nature of the case.

“I understand the charges were serious and distasteful, but I have to ensure my clients get a fair trial,” Martinez told FLORIDA TODAY. “I do that for all my clients, regardless of the allegations.”

Willie Shorter (right) stands with attorney Daniel Martinez during his first court appearance in 2019. Shorter faces 8 years in prison under a plea deal with the state after police said he impregnated a woman with severe developmental disabilities while working as her caregiver at a Rockledge group home in early 2015.

Willie Shorter (right) stands with attorney Daniel Martinez during his first court appearance in 2019. Shorter faces 8 years in prison under a plea deal with the state after police said he impregnated a woman with severe developmental disabilities while working as her caregiver at a Rockledge group home in early 2015.

A spokesperson for the office of Brevard and Seminole County State Attorney Phil Archer said in a statement that prosecutors met with family members of the woman for their feedback before offering the deal.

“Our prosecutors work hard on behalf of victims and survivors, aggressively prosecuting these cases. We also place great importance on the concerns of those affected by tragedy, including the desire for resolution and closure,” spokesman Todd Brown said in an emailed statement.

“This plea agreement represents their desire, and ours, for justice on behalf of the victim. It also seeks to protect the community by providing incarceration, rehabilitation, and supervised accountability,” he said.

Bridge houses:Caregiver worked with woman, 12 others for years after initial investigation

Shorter’s official sentencing date is March 16. Until then, Brown said, Shorter is free on “Quarterman’s release,” meaning he will forfeit the deal and receive the maximum sentence if he violates the terms of his release before his next court date. Martinez said he asked for the release to allow Shorter time to get his affairs in order before his sentence begins.

Shorter was arrested in February 2019 after he voluntarily submitted to a DNA test, which police said proved he was the child’s father. He had been a suspect in the case as early as 2015 when Bridges staff first discovered the woman was pregnant, but a Rockledge police investigation did not turn up enough evidence at the time to make an arrest.

The woman gave birth later that year and the child was adopted by her parents, an attorney for the family said.

Despite his suspected involvement, Shorter was allowed to continue working directly with the woman and others in the group home until the case was renewed in 2018. Police reopened the investigation after the woman later complained to staff that Shorter had been touching her genitals, according to police reports.

They investigated a separate complaint against Shorter from a second woman at the home shortly after his arrest but the case was closed without charges.

Not fired:Bridges sex assault case: Why wasn’t man accused in 2 incidents fired earlier?

Bridges leadership at the time blamed the decision to keep Shorter on staff on its then-CEO David Cooke, who told FLORIDA TODAY he had allowed Shorter to continue working at the facility because he had not been charged with a crime. Shorter was fired after his arrest, according to the nonprofit.

Bridges BTC, Inc. — which rebranded last year as the Arc of Space Coast — is a Rockledge-based nonprofit that provides services and programs to clients with disabilities and their families. It did not return a message seeking comment for this story.

The incident led to Cooke’s suspension and later resignation after the results of an independent third-party review into the nonprofit’s policies and procedures commissioned by the Bridges board of directors. Former Chairwoman Susan Stokes Elmore issued a statement at the time calling Shorter’s continued employment during the investigation “entirely unacceptable.”

Bridges reached an undisclosed settlement with the woman’s family after they filed a lawsuit over the incident in 2019. Family members of the second woman also filed for damages but later dropped the case, court records show.

Dropping the ball:Police had DNA results months before caregiver’s arrest

Shorter passed a legally required background check prior to his employment with Bridges. He had been arrested in 1997 on a misdemeanor battery charge but the charge was later dropped; court records showed Shorter had no criminal convictions in Brevard County.

The Rockledge Police Department also drew scrutiny for its handling of the case after a spokesperson confirmed it had received the DNA results allegedly proving Shorter’s involvement six months before his arrest, as he continued to work with clients at another Bridges facility.

Rockledge Deputy Chief Donna Seyferth said a technician, who had failed to relay the results to detectives in a timely manner, had been disciplined over the incident, but declined to elaborate.

Eric Rogers is a watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or Follow him on Twitter: @EricRogersFT.

Family speaks out:Father describes pain, anger after daughter’s caregiver arrested in connection with her pregnancy

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Former Rockledge caregiver who impregnated client gets 8 years in prison

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