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Lawsuit filed by family of woman with disabilities who was impregnated


Attorney Kevin C. Smith speaks out about Dawn Blanchard, who has developmental disabilities, and sex allegations against her former Bridges caregiver
Eric Rogers, Florida Today

MELBOURNE, Fla. – The family of a woman with disabilities, who investigators say was impregnated by a caregiver employed by an organization that helps people with disabilities, has filed a civil lawsuit against the nonprofit.

Also named in the lawsuit, filed Thursday, is Willie Shorter, 58, who earlier this month was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a disabled person.

The complaint didn’t list any monetary damages the plaintiffs are seeking.

Shorter worked for Rockledge-based Bridges Foundation. He was arrested on Feb. 6, the same day investigators said they received DNA evidence confirming he had fathered a child with a client under his care.

That client, Dawn Blanchard, is listed as a plaintiff on the civil filing, as are her parents, Robert and Janet Blanchard. Dawn Blanchard, now 43, had the child in 2015 and Shorter had remained working for Bridges until recently.

Between 2015 and April 2018, Shorter continued to help care for Blanchard at the group home where she lived, Bridges CEO David Cooke told Florida Today earlier.

The USA TODAY Network does not usually name the victims of sexual assault, but in this case the family has said it wants their names to be used.

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

Shorter was suspended, per Bridges’ policy, for about two months when the investigation resumed in April. He returned to work in June or July, but was moved to a different group home “for everyone’s safety,” Cooke said.

Until his arrest, Shorter continued to help care for about 15 clients.

Neither Bridges nor Rockledge police have had any new complaints against Shorter since his arrest.

Cooke said Thursday night he had not seen the lawsuit and had no comment.


An employee of Bridges in Rockledge was arrested Wednesday after an investigation found he had father a child with a developmentally disabled woman. Here is what we know.
Eric Rogers, Florida Today

The lawsuit was filed in Brevard County by Kevin C. Smith, a partner at the South Florida law firm of Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath, which is representing the family.

Bob Gabordi, executive editor of FLORIDA TODAY and, has been a Bridges board member beginning June 28, 2018. He has suspended his board membership until after March 1, when he retires from FLORIDA TODAY. He first attended a retreat with the Bridges Foundation in May 2018 before joining the board. His daughter is a client.

Follow Wayne T. Price on Twitter: @Fla2dayBiz.


An employee at a Rockledge facility for people with disabilities was arrested Wednesday after police said he fathered a child with one of the clients.
Wochit, Wochit

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