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Head of child welfare agency choked child at Webster Groves facility, court documents say


WEBSTER GROVES — The chief executive of a child welfare agency and alternative school here who was charged Tuesday with endangering the welfare of a child was seen on video choking a youth, according to court documents.

Vincent Damian Hillyer, CEO of Great Circle, also ordered employees to falsify reports about the child, court records say.

Hillyer, of Hillington Court in Eureka, was charged Tuesday with six counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree, all felonies, a count of attempting to endanger the welfare of a child in the second degree, a felony, and a count of assault in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor.

Great Circle provides behavioral health services to thousands of children statewide through its counseling centers, home services and campuses, including an alternative school that offers boarding in Webster Groves. The school is one of five serving children in state custody and students with mental illness and learning disabilities whose public school is unable to serve them.

Webster Groves police arrested Hillyer on Tuesday as they executed a search warrant at the school at 330 North Gore Avenue as part of a joint investigation with the state Children’s Division. The state had received a hotline tip that a child at the Great Circle facility in Webster Groves had been choked.

Police obtained a video showing Hillyer “choking a child seated on a couch,” Webster Groves police officer Jillian McCoy wrote in a probable cause statement.

Hillyer choked and forcefully restrained the child, who is younger than 17, as part of “an act or series of acts” that were an “established or prescribed pattern of activity,” according to an indictment filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court on the charges of assault and attempted endangering the welfare of a child.

Authorities had not responded Wednesday to requests for more details about the six child endangerment charges against Hillyer.

Hillyer has been placed on administrative leave, Great Circle spokeswoman Bev Pfeifer-Harms wrote Wednesday in a statement. She said the organization learned about the investigation Tuesday.

Pfeifer-Harms declined to provide more details but said Great Circle is subject to routine and “rigorous, independent, third party review” and that staff are encouraged to report concerns.

“As always, Great Circle will cooperate fully with any and all reviews of the care provided at its facilities,” she said.

A judge set Hillyer’s bail at $205,000 and ordered him to have no contact with Great Circle residents or staff.

Boys & Girls Town of Missouri and Edgewood Children’s Center merged in 2009 to form Great Circle.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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