PITTSBURGH, PA – A former resident of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, was sentenced in federal court yesterday for committing federal hate crimes and related offenses involving numerous severely disabled victims, United States Attorney Cindy K. Chung announced today.
United States District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan sentenced Zachary Dinell, 29, formerly of Freedom, Pennsylvania, to 204 months’ imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release. Dinell previously 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.
“Zachary Dinell committed egregious assaults against some of our community’s most vulnerable members,” said U.S. Attorney Chung. “His victims could not speak up and were forced to suffer in silence. Hopefully, the significant sentence imposed will bring some measure of closure to the victims’ families and serve as a reminder that this Office will continue to seek justice for victims of hate crimes.”
“No one should have to experience the torture and pain the victims in this case went through,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall. “Mr. Dinell was trusted to care for them; Instead, he targeted them because of their disability. Even worse, the victims were not able to sound the alarm to anyone who could help. This sentencing sends a clear message that individuals like Mr. Dinell will be held accountable for their actions. Protecting the rights of everyone in our communities is among the highest priorities of the FBI.”
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 hand sanitizer in their eyes, spraying liquid irritants, including mouthwash, 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.
As part of his sentence, Dinell is prohibited from seeking employment following his release from prison at any facility that provides care for juveniles, the disabled, or both.
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.