SEPTEMBER 30, 2002 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 13
Abuse of the elderly may be physical or financial. In some cases caretakers or family members may simply have failed to provide adequate care and that neglect may have lead to injury (or even death). Most elder care professionals recognize that all three kinds of misconduct are seriously under-reported, making it difficult to accurately determine how common the problems actually are. That difficulty is exacerbated by adult protective organizations’ inclusion of "self-neglect"—the failure of a frail elder to seek adequate care for themselves—in the statistical mix.
Two recent California criminal cases are evocative of the kinds of physical abuse and neglect inflicted on elders. Both arise because the defendants, though acknowledging that they were guilty of criminal acts, sought to reduce the severity of sentences imposed for their crimes.
David Wallace Taggart, who lived in Ventura County, had a problem with cocaine. He had been in trouble several times as a result of his drug addiction and drinking, and he was on probation for a drunk-driving offense when he embarked on a three-day cocaine binge, leading to a delusional state and a violent outburst. He began by tearing up his girlfriend’s house, then jumped into his truck, drove it into the fence of his elderly neighbors the Thompsons, and attacked both the wife and husband without any provocation. He ended up striking Mr. Thompson with a frying pan, knocking him out.
When Mr. Taggart was sentenced to nine years in prison he appealed. His argument: he was delusional at the time of the attacks and that should have mitigated his sentence. The Court of Appeals noted that he had a history of violence and drug abuse, and declined to reduce his sentence. People v. Taggart, September 19, 2002.
Nicholas Hayes Raye lived in Napa County. He had befriended an elderly woman, Helen Johnson, and moved in with her, helping her with small household chores and projects. As Ms. Johnson’s ability to take care of herself deteriorated Mr. Raye became more and more responsible for her care. After Mr. Raye noticed open sores on Ms. Johnson’s back he called 911, and state social services workers became involved.
Despite repeated attempts to get Mr. Raye to turn Ms. Johnson in her bed, feed her adequately and keep her wounds clean, he did not seem to be able to cope with his landlady’s condition. Instead, he chased nurses and social workers out of the house. Ms. Johnson’s condition worsened, and she died at home a few weeks after Mr. Raye’s care began.
Mr. Raye obviously suffered from mental problems of his own, but he was convicted of elder abuse and sentenced to one year in jail and five years of probation. He appealed because, among other things, he objected to the prosecutor introducing evidence that he had also taken financial advantage of Ms. Johnson prior to her physical condition worsening. The Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Raye’s conviction, finding that the evidence tended to show the relationship between Mr. Raye and Ms. Johnson, and that any error was harmless. People v. Raye, September 19, 2002.