The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed last week it had launched a criminal probe into Rebecca Fierle, the Orlando-based guardian who has resigned from all cases statewide in which she was the court-appointed decision maker for incapacitated people, known as wards.
Court records show Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe on Thursday ordered the release to authorities of information regarding the case of Steven Stryker, 75, who died at a Tampa hospital after staff could not perform life-saving procedures because of a DNR filed against his wishes by Fierle, his guardian.
Thorpe’s July 29 order came after a court monitor in the Ninth Judicial Circuit brought up concerns to the court regarding “possible criminal activity” by Fierle in Stryker’s case, the judge’s one-page order indicates. It directs the court monitor to turn the information over to “the proper law enforcement agency.”
“The Court finds that it is necessary to release confidential information in the possession of the guardian monitor in order to facilitate a criminal investigation," Thorpe wrote, according to court records.
It’s unclear if the judge’s latest ruling was confined to Stryker’s case. One-page orders were also filed in the cases of other former Fierle wards on Thursday, but were sealed from public view.
An earlier state investigation conducted by the Okaloosa County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller found Fierle refused to remove the DNR despite Stryker’s desire for life-saving actions, and that her claims about his final wishes contradicted his daughter, friend and a psychiatrist.
“The ward had never previously expressed a desire to die, and it seems unlikely that, as soon as he was appointed a guardian, he would suddenly be unwilling to tolerate a condition that he had been dealing with for many years,” wrote Andrew Thurman, an auditor and investigator under the Okaloosa Clerk’s inspector general department, in the investigative report.
Fierle told investigators she filed a DNR on Stryker because it was “an issue of quality of life rather than quantity,” and said she regularly filed DNRs for her wards, Thurman wrote.
Investigators alleged in the report that Fierle’s decision amounted to “the removal of care necessary to maintain the ward’s physical health” and cited criminal statues.
“The removal of this necessary care directly resulted in the ward’s death,” Thurman wrote in the report. “Fla. Stat. states ‘A person who causes the death of any elderly person or disabled adult by culpable negligence ... commits aggravated manslaughter of an elderly person or disabled adult, a felony of the first degree.’”
Fierle is not currently facing any criminal charges.
Thorpe sought to remove Fierle from 95 Orange County cases after finding the guardian had “abused her powers” by requesting that incapacitated clients not receive medical treatment if their heart or breathing stopped, without permission from the court or the wards’ families.
State Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom on Friday announced “immediate” changes to improve the agency’s response time for complaints, though his office has not yet given specifics. The news came hours after the Orlando Sentinel reported that a 2016 complaint against Fierle had sat ignored for more than two years.
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Judge releases confidential information to authorities investigating former Orlando guardian Rebecca Fierle