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He was killed at a recovery home. Now his family wants more state oversight.

Posted at 12:13 PM, Jul 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-21 10:07:33-04

UPDATE: Kevin Rice entered into a plea deal with prosecutors Wednesday, admitting guilt to charges of second-degree murder and abduction to obtain monetary benefit.

He was sentenced to 50 years in prison, with 20 suspended.

Melissa Hipolit is following up with Robert Pulling’s relatives. Watch her live reports Thursday night, beginning on the CBS 6 News at 5 p.m.

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard and a grieving daughter whose father died in a recovery house last November both argue Virginia needs to have more oversight of its recovery houses.

But, the head of the association that advocates on behalf of Virginia recovery residences, the Virginia Association for Recovery Residences (VARR), argues the current model works well.

In April, CBS 6 problem solver Melissa Hipolit introduced you to Chelchasity Pulling and told you about her father, Robert Pulling.

"I don't think he belonged here. I really don't," Chelchasity Pulling said.

Pulling suffered from schizophrenia but somehow ended up at a recovery house for people with substance abuse problems run by the Real Life program.

His family said he was doing well, that is until he was found dead.

Richmond Police said Robert Pulling was stabbed to death by a roommate who also tried to steal his bank card.

Despite a lengthy criminal history, Real Life made Kevin Rice the house manager.

Pulling's family cannot understand why.

"The kind of person I believe should have been in charge is someone who has changed their life around for the good," Chelchasity Pulling said.

The family has since filed a lawsuit against Real Life.

Their attorney, Noel Brooks, said in order to prevent something like this from happening again, recovery houses need more state oversight.

"If we don't get some kind of control then I believe that Mr. Pulling's death was just the start of what is to come," Brooks said.

Currently, the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) has a certification process for recovery houses, but it's voluntary.

Additionally, it's not actually the state doing the certifying.

A recovery house can be certified through Oxford Houses of Virginia, a non-profit that charters recovery homes, or VARR.

VARR advocates on behalf of recovery residences.

Real Life is accredited through VARR, and Doctor Sarah Scarborough, who owns Real Life, is the President of the VARR board.

"They have suggested canons or ethical principles that these recovery homes are supposed to abide by, but they seem rather suggestive in nature as opposed to mandatory, and in terms of practicality there is nothing that says they are being enforced or living up to these ideals," Brooks said.

Despite that, the General Assembly allocated $10 million to VARR in the August 2021 special session, two-thirds of which is to be spent on recovery house beds for the indigent.

Even Sheriff Leonard, who really believes in the mission of recovery houses, said the state needs to have more control.

"For us, it is essential when someone leaves our jail to go into one of these recovery homes," Leonard said. "Just like hospitals have oversight, these recovery homes have patients that's what the people in there are doing, they are suffering from a disease, the disease of addiction. VARR isn't the end-all for this, but it's a starting point, that's all it is."

But Anthony Grimes, the Executive Director for VARR, argues the state does provide oversight through DBHDS because they delegate the funding to VARR.

"I think the model we have now is a model that is working very well," Grimes said.

However, the state itself does not inspect a single recovery residence.

"DBHDS you're saying they're managing VARR, but really they're saying VARR we're entrusting you with managing the recovery residences, we're entrusting you with making sure everything is up to par at all of these houses? " Melissa Hipolit asked Grimes.

"Yeah, it's really similar to a major operation I got. I didn't get to look at my brain surgeon's degree but I had to trust that the hospital had him working there and that he had my best interest at heart," Grimes replied.

Hipolit asked Grimes if VARR should hold Real Life accountable for what happened to Robert Pulling.

"VARR has followed all of its proper protocols and procedures regarding the tragic incident that occurred and certainly it is an ongoing litigated lawsuit that is occurring so at this time we are not going to speak publicly about it until the conclusion of the lawsuit," Grimes said.

"The person who started Real Life is the President of your board. How can the public and also the family of Mr. Pulling trust that you are handling this situation fairly?" Hipolit asked Grimes.

"The public doesn't just have to trust me. We have an entire staff here and many people on our board who certainly are in constant contact with our VARR office, they frequently come by here. It would be unfair to frame it as if I was the ultimate authority on all things," Grimes responded.

They are answers that Chelchasity Pulling said provide little comfort.

"I don't want any other family to go through what me and my brother are going through," Chelchasity Pulling said before starting to cry. "I'm sorry."

VARR is required in its contract with the state to send monthly reports of all incidents, complaints and grievances at its certified recovery houses.

So, Hipolit submitted a FOIA request to try to find out what VARR told the state about what happened at Robert Pulling's house.

But, it turns out all VARR has to submit are the number of incidents, complaints and grievances reported that month.

They do not have to provide any details.

The VARR did respond with the following statement:

The Virginia Association of Recovery Residences (VARR) Board of Directors is aware of the tragic incident that resulted in the death of Mr. Pulling in a recovery residence. We are monitoring the legal proceedings closely and at the conclusion of the legal process a third-party evaluator will be hired to gather all of the facts surrounding this tragic incident and those findings will be made available to the public. Our condolences go out to the family of Mr. Pulling.

Watch for Problem Solvers Investigations Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. Click here for more of our investigations or to submit a tip to the Problem Solvers.

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