PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — Goodwill-Suncoast Industries has fired an employee after police say he inappropriately touched a woman with disabilities.
Samuel Barreto-Nieves is out on bond for felony lewd and lascivious battery. He's accused of enticing a woman with disabilities to touch him sexually: a woman he supervised. Barreto-Nieves spoke exclusively with ABC Action News and insists it was a mutual romantic relationship.
"I fell in love and when they handcuffed me I asked them 'Is it illegal to fall in love with a person with disabilities?'" said Samuel Barreto-Nieves.
Despite his reasoning, the arrest report indicates he should have known "the victim lacked the capacity to consent." The investigator describing the victim as "developmentally delayed" and a "vulnerable adult."
"We clicked, we had things in common. Maybe I'm not high functioning. I don't know," said Barreto-Nieves. "I'm going to request a psychiatric evaluation because I feel I was compatible with her."
At Goodwill, he would oversee the victim. The woman works in Goodwill-Suncoast's Life Skills Development program, designed to give adults with developmental disabilities an opportunity to earn a paycheck.
"So you still understand it's a supervisory role?" ABC Action News reporter Isabel Rosales asked the suspect.
"Yes," he responded.
"So that was wrong," said Rosales.
"To a certain extent," replied Barreto-Nieves.
ABC Action News reached out to Goodwill about its hiring practices. Chris Ward, director of marketing and public relations, responded with the following statement:
The screening process for anyone who works with clients is extremely rigorous, including extensive background checks and fingerprinting, as required by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Goodwill ensures that all these measures are successfully completed and documented for all employees. The safety and well-being of our program participants is our highest priority. The organization conducted an investigation into and fully addressed this matter. The associated staff member is no longer employed with Goodwill-Suncoast.
Investigators noted the victim's caseworker told Barreto-Nieves not to seek a romantic relationship but he nonetheless sent the victim nude pictures. Barreto-Nieves confirmed he sent her sexually explicit messages through social media.
Most disturbing, according to the police report, is they claim he took the victim to an area he knew was not video recorded to touch her: an allegation he strongly denies.