Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bibb’s elder, disabled abuse unit a voice for the ‘silent victims’

In fall 2013, then-95-year-old Ella Mae Potts’ bank account was overdrawn, and there was no money to buy groceries or pay bills.

Her granddaughter, 50-year-old Martha Gail Baker, was her primary caregiver.

An investigation later showed that Baker had been forging some of Potts’ checks and forcing her to sign others to steal more than $1,685, according to police records.

Baker’s case is one of about two dozen routed through the Bibb County District Attorney’s Office’s Elder and Disabled Abuse Unit since the unit formed last year.

Prior to last May, the office had handled three elder abuse cases dating back to 2005, said Will Johnson, the prosecutor assigned to the new unit.

Adult Protective Services is Georgia’s agency that investigates abuse to people aged 65 and up or disabled people over 18 who don’t live in long-term care facilities.

The agency’s director, Barbara Pastirik, said Adult Protective Services’ partnership with prosecutors across the state is very important.

“We aspire not just to uncover the abuse and stop it from happening but also to hold people accountable,” she said. “It takes the team.”

District Attorney David Cooke established the special prosecuting unit in May 2013 after taking note of the referrals his office received relating to elder abuse and the increasing elderly population. He saw a need for a specialist.

Bibb County’s program is one of two in the state, Cooke said last week.

“As our population ages, protecting the elderly is one of the best things we can do to protect our families,” he said.

Johnson said Bibb County’s unit is patterned after the other unit in the state that’s located at the De- Kalb County District Attorney’s Office.

DeKalb’s unit was launched about five years ago after its leader, assistant district attorney Jeanne Canavan, prosecuted a group of telemarketers who called 10,000 seniors and tricked them into disclosing their Social Security and bank account numbers.

Listening to recordings of the calls, Canavan said it made her “blood boil.”

Her unit started with only two people but has grown to have three attorneys and support staff.

They’ve handled 157 cases, mostly involving financial exploitation or neglect. Physical abuse cases are handled by other prosecutors, Canavan said.

In Bibb County, all forms of abuse on an elderly or disabled person -- including physical abuse -- are handled by Johnson’s unit.

People found guilty can be sentenced to up to 20 years.

Punishments vary.

In Baker’s case, she was sentenced to 15 years on probation and to complete a residential substance abuse treatment center program after she pleaded guilty to one count of exploitation of an elder person, according to Bibb County Superior Court records.

Attempts to reach Baker were unsuccessful last week.

Johnson said his work on the unit has been rewarding, and it has made him more sensitive to how vulnerable some people can be.

In addition to prosecuting crimes, Johnson has become a clearinghouse for the elderly and disabled who don’t know who to call for information about food stamps, housing or other needs.

Sometimes people need help navigating the system, and “I can get them to people who can provide those services,” he said.

Johnson is part of a new Vulnerable Adult Justice Task Force launched Friday, which brings together representatives from Adult Protective Services, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, service providers, prosecutors and law enforcement to review how past cases were handled and how investigations and services provided can be improved.

Although the task force initially will only be reviewing Bibb County cases, Johnson said he hopes the group will expand to include Middle Georgia.

“Our elders and our disabled are our silent victims,” Johnson said.

Unlike crimes against children that get publicity, crimes against the elderly rarely are in the spotlight.

“I want to make sure that an elder or disabled person gets a voice and they get justice,” he said. “Just because you’re not a prominent victim doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to justice and to have a voice in the process.”

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Bibb’s elder, disabled abuse unit a voice for the ‘silent victims’

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1 comment:

Kay said...

I am so happy these new abuse units are being formed.