Saturday, June 29, 2024

GA Judge Removed From Bench In Ethics Case

Story by Amanda Lumpkin

GEORGIA — After recent accusations of misconduct and hitting an Atlanta police officer, Douglas County Probate Court Judge Christina Peterson has been removed from the bench.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission ruled Peterson, 38, has violated multiple Code of Judicial Conduct policies since taking office, per an 82-page Georgia Supreme Court decision obtained by Patch.

The Supreme Court said those violations warrant Peterson's removal from her judicial role.

"We agree that removal is warranted here. ... the Hearing Panel found that the (JQC) Director proved by clear and convincing evidence 28 of 30 counts alleging that Judge Peterson violated the CJC, and that discipline is authorized under the Georgia Constitution for 20 of those 28 counts. With respect to all 20 of those counts, we conclude that the Hearing Panel’s findings are not clearly erroneous," the Supreme Court said in its decision.

"And we agree with, and affirm, the Hearing Panel’s conclusion that Judge Peterson’s misconduct warrants discipline with respect to 12 of them, because the Director met her burden of showing that Judge Peterson’s conduct constituted willful misconduct in office or conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute."

Peterson most recently was accused of hitting an Atlanta officer responding Thursday to a Peachtree Road nightclub in Buckhead.

Upon arrival, police said the officer saw security escorting a woman out of the venue.

Peterson then "rushed toward the commotion and immediately starting screaming at the security guard and officer. Ms. Peterson then forcibly pushed the officer in the chest and kept swiping his hands away as he attempted to assist the female being escorted out," police said.

Police accused Peterson of shoving the officer once more before being placed into custody. Police said she continuously refused to identify herself.

Peterson previously took to Instagram to say she was helping a woman who was being attacked by men at the club when police arrested her.

Atlanta Police body cam footage released Friday shows Peterson's arrest, and video footage released Sunday by Peterson shows what appears to be a dispute outside the club.

"Take me where you need to take me immediately, expeditiously," Peterson is heard saying in the footage. " ... I will get a fingerprint, and they can find out who I am."

Fulton County Jail records showed Peterson was charged on suspicion of simple battery against police officer/police dog/corrections or detention officer and willful obstruction of law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence.

She was granted a $1,000 bond on the former charge and a $4,000 bond on the latter charge, jail records showed.

"I know I’m not big enough to stop a big man, but I know I was strong enough in my faith to do something. Thank you for the outpouring of love and support. #probatejudge #redmartiniatl #justiceforchristina #justiceforall #protectwomen. People asked me why didn’t I just mind my business? After all, I have a position to protect. For me, a life is worth more. Would you help a stranger being attacked," Peterson wrote Sunday on Instagram.

Peterson was first charged by the JQC in September 2021, ultimately alleging 50 counts of misconduct against the now former judge, the Supreme Court said.

The high court added 20 of those counts were dismissed prior to and during a September 2023 hearing.

The JQC has made at least two past motions since September 2021 to have Peterson suspended, motions the Supreme Court said were denied.

The qualifications commission filed a third motion for interim suspension Friday, a day after Peterson's Buckhead arrest; however, the Supreme Court said Peterson's removal from office makes the motion moot.

Peterson was admitted in 2013 to the State Bar of Georgia and qualified on March 5, 2020 to run for Douglas County probate judge, the Supreme Court said. She won her election that year and was sworn in on Dec. 29, 2020 for a four-year term.

Full Article & Source:
GA Judge Removed From Bench In Ethics Case

St. Louis County Man Sentenced to 87 Months in Prison, Ordered to Pay More Than $1 Million for Elder Fraud and Disability Fraud

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Missouri

ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Clark on Thursday sentenced a St. Louis County, Missouri man who financially exploited two elderly women while committing disability fraud to 87 months in prison and ordered him to repay more than $1.1 million. 

Gino Rives, 36, of Edmundson, also agreed to return a house to one of the victims and will be ordered to return a total of six vehicles that he obtained from his two elderly victims. Judge Clark fined him $100,000.

Rives pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in St. Louis in January to five counts of theft of government funds in the disability fraud case. He pleaded guilty in October in the elder fraud case to one count of access device fraud and one count of fraudulently effecting transactions.

Rives admitted fraudulently receiving payments from the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Supplemental Security Income Program. Rives applied in 2010, claiming to have a mental health disorder. He repeatedly pretended to be incapable of answering basic questions during interviews and evaluations. He falsely claimed to have memory problems and difficulty concentrating, following instructions and completing tasks. He claimed he had never been employed, could not drive, was unable to handle his financial affairs and had no assets. 

Rives admitted concealing his employment in the construction and tree trimming industries, his 
participation in competitive mixed martial arts, his ownership of houses and vehicles, and his receipt of more than $721,692 since 2021. He now must pay the SSA $120,260.

Rives has also admitted financially exploiting two elderly women. He obtained four vehicles and checks totaling more than $855,000 from one woman for construction work on her house, most of which was never done. He also used her debit card for personal purchases for himself and his family. He executed a quit claim deed and transferred a house belonging to the other victim into his name. He moved her from her home and into a nursing home and permitted his mother to move into the home.

A nursing home administrator testified during the sentencing hearing that the victim was left at the facility with two sets of pajamas, two dresses, a pair of slippers, and a couple of sets of underwear. The victim received additional clothing purchased by the administrator and through donations obtained at the nursing home. The victim was left without “a single memento from her childhood or the international trips she made with her late husband,” a sentencing memo filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Berry says. The memo says Rives was convicted in 2009 of another case involving the financial exploitation of the elderly and accused in a similar case in 2014.

Judge Clark ordered Rives to pay restitution of $1,042,848 in the elder fraud case.

Zella Rives, 57, admitted helping her son with the disability fraud. Austin James, a Jefferson County contractor, has also pleaded guilty and admitted aiding Rives with defrauding one of the victims. They have not yet been sentenced.

The Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Secret Service investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Berry is prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information about disability fraud is asked to contact the SSA Office of Inspector General fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or submit a report online at report. Concerns about suspected abuse or neglect of the elderly or disabled should be directed to Missouri’s Adult Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 800-392-0210 or online at


Robert Patrick, Public Affairs Officer,

St. Louis County Man Sentenced to 87 Months in Prison, Ordered to Pay More Than $1 Million for Elder Fraud and Disability Fraud

Wood River woman charged with financial exploitation of elderly, disabled person

Wood River suspect accused of elder theft and forgery

By Scott Cousins

EDWARDSVILLE – A 57-year-old Wood River woman was charged with financial exploitation of an elderly person with a disability, a Class 1 felony; theft of property over $5,000 by deception from an elderly person, a Class 2 felony; and forgery, a Class 3 felony.

The case was presented by the Madison County Sheriff’s Department.

According to court documents, from about Oct. 14, 2023, to Dec. 9, 2023, the suspect took more than $5,000 in cash using a position of trust from an elderly, disabled person; and on Nov. 24 attempted to cash a check for $4,769.26 purportedly made out by the victim.

The suspect was ordered released from custody.

Full Article & Source:
Wood River woman charged with financial exploitation of elderly, disabled person

Friday, June 28, 2024

Man granted guardianship over 18-year-old despite victim’s sexual abuse accusations: Court docs

The man and his partner are now accused of keeping their five adopted children in horrific conditions.

By Brenda Ordonez

CLERMONT COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - An adoptive father in a Clermont County child endangerment case was granted guardianship of an 18-year-old after the man admitted he had been accused of sexual abuse by the 18-year-old, according to court documents.

Charles Edmonson, 63, was the focus of a 2022 sexual assault investigation by the Clermont County Sheriff’s Office Investigative Unit, court records show.

That investigation was two years before Prosecutor Mark Tekulve announced the indictment of Charles Edmonson and Matthew Edmonson for five counts of child endangering.

During the 2022 investigation, Charles Edmonson was seeking guardianship of an 18-year-old, who was deemed incompetent to care for himself, court documents explain.

As a result of the guardianship application, in December 2022, a court investigator visited the then-18-year-old while Charles Edmonson was present.

The investigator documented Charles Edmonson telling them that the victim had accused him of sexual abuse, according to court records.

A Clermont County judge granted Charles Edmonson guardianship of the victim just a few weeks later.

A 2022 dated letter from Charles Edmonson mentioned in the court record indicated there were four special needs children in his home.

Charles Edmonson was indicted and lost guardianship of the victim in October 2023. He was later convicted in March 2024.

FOX19 NOW called Clermont County Child Protective Services multiple times to ask how Charles Edmonson got guardianship of this victim during the 2022 investigation and how the five other adopted children were able to remain in his custody during this time. The Clermont County Child Protective Services has not responded.

Charles Edmonson is expected to be transported back to Clermont County Common Pleas Court for his arraignment on the new child endangerment charges.

As for his partner, 49-year-old Matthew Edmonson, she appeared in court on Wednesday.

She pleaded not guilty to the charges and was given a $500,000 bond.

Full Article & Source:
Man granted guardianship over 18-year-old despite victim’s sexual abuse accusations: Court docs

Felony charges filed in beating of 81-year-old man at Redondo Beach Elks Lodge

Nearly two months after an attack he claims was unprovoked, victim Joseph Lordeon says he still feels traumatized

By Scott Schwebke

Felony assault and elder abuse charges have been filed in connection with the Cinco de Mayo beating of an 81-year-old man at the Redondo Beach Elks Lodge.

Charging documents filed last week by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office indicated Lamont Dominic Steele’s alleged assault on Joseph Lordeon involved significant “violence, cruelty and viciousness” that indicated a “serious danger to society.”

Steele, 52, who is married to Elks Lodge Exalted Ruler Nashana Steele, will be arraigned July 22 at the Torrance courthouse on charges of elder abuse and assault likely to produce great bodily injury. The couple could not be reached for comment Tuesday, June 25.

Lordeon, in a brief telephone interview, said he is satisfied with the charges against his alleged attacker, describing it as a “good deal.”

“I spent a lot of time in the hospital and am still kind of traumatized,” said Lordeon, who claims Steele cold-cocked him in an unprovoked attack.

Lordeon told the Southern California News Group that his ordeal began about 4:30 p.m. May 5  when he visited the Elks Lodge on the eastern edge of the oceanfront Veterans Park to meet some friends. On his way out about 15 minutes later, he said, a lodge member invited him to have some food at a private party attended by about 45 people in another bar at the north end of the lodge.

Lordeon was handed a plate, helped himself to some salad from a buffet table, and walked away after a woman he didn’t know said he wasn’t supposed to be there. Lordeon replied that he had been invited and walked into the lobby with his plate.

Almost as soon as he sat down, he said, Steele smacked him on the left side of the head, knocking him unconscious.

Lordeon was transported by ambulance to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and treated for a large facial wound, rib injuries, and soft tissue damage.

Redondo Beach police have not released information about the assault. However, a seven-page, heavily redacted investigative report obtained by the Southern California News Group offers conflicting details from police interviews with witnesses.

A woman — presumably Nashana Steele — told police she asked Lordeon to leave the private party, noting he had not been paying his lodge membership dues. She alleges Lordeon refused to leave and shoved her with his right upper arm and shoulder, according to the report.

Lordeon denies touching the woman.

The report states Lamont Steele was on the patio at the lodge when someone told him a man had assaulted his wife. He then went looking for the man and soon found him.

Steele claims he asked the man if he had touched his wife, to which the man replied “f— you.” This upset him further, prompting him to allegedly punch the man once with a closed fist, the report said.

Lordeon fell to the ground unconscious and the assailant claimed to have slapped him to wake him up to tell him that he needed to leave the lodge, according to the report.

A Redondo Beach police officer who viewed the lodge’s security video of the incident said in the report that the assault was unprovoked, adding that Lordeon was punched three times, picked up from the couch, and pushed to the floor. The attacker then stood over Lordeon, slapped him with an open hand, left the lodge and drove home.

Full Article & Source:
Felony charges filed in beating of 81-year-old man at Redondo Beach Elks Lodge

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Stuck in a hospital, hoping for a place of his own

A 29-year-old man with cerebral palsy has been in WakeMed for more than three months waiting for an affordable, safe and supported home.

Tylor Freeman in happier times. Credit: Tylor Freeman

by Rose Hoban

Tylor Freeman would like to go home.

His problem? There’s no home to go to. 

Instead, the 29-year-old has been cooling his heels at WakeMed hospital in Raleigh for more than 100 days.

Freeman’s odyssey began last fall when he needed to have a minor medical procedure. He has cerebral palsy, along with having a history of anxiety and depression. He was living in supported housing with a roommate in Burlington, a situation where he alleges that the caregiver working with him was abusing alcohol. 

So, after his procedure was completed at a hospital in Concord, he refused to return to where he had been living. His family’s dynamics preclude him living with any immediate family members.

Because he didn’t have a home to return to, he first tried living with friends out of state, but that became complicated for him and for his friends, given his extensive care needs and the limitations of what state Medicaid programs can pay for outside of North Carolina. Freeman uses a power wheelchair and needs assistance with everyday activities such as bathing, using the bathroom, dressing, preparing food and more.

“I can feed myself as long as it’s cut up. Soup, cereal, that’s kind of tough,” Freeman said. In the past, he said, he’s been able to use a urinary bag system, as long as it doesn’t leak. “So I could be left alone for a couple of hours, as long as I’m in my wheelchair.”

Freeman spent time in a South Carolina hospital, which eventually threatened to discharge him to a homeless shelter. That’s when friends in Raleigh suggested he make his way to the Triangle. On March 5, he got onto a Greyhound and made his way to WakeMed hospital, where he was admitted to be treated for bladder and body pain. 

That’s where he remains, even though his medical issues were taken care of long ago. 

Freeman’s not alone in his predicament.

For years, people with disabilities have been getting stuck in treatment facilities across North Carolina, even as they strive for the opportunity to live independently. 

The federal Americans With Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, and subsequent Supreme Court and state court rulings require the state to provide services and housing to people with mental health disabilities. One of those rulings is part of a 2012 lawsuit settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and North Carolina to ensure that such populations are able to live in the least restrictive settings of their choice. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision in 1999 laid the foundation for such a settlement by prohibiting the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities and underscoring their right to receive services within their communities.

Bumping up against all those legal mandates is a profound lack of affordable housing in North Carolina, including in Wake County — where the median home cost $474,750 in April, and rent easily tops $1,200 a month (according to Zillow). Both hospital and state officials say that’s the primary reason they’ve had trouble finding a place for Freeman, on top of a shortage of direct service professionals to provide him with the help he needs to live independently. 

And though the state has made efforts to help Freeman and others in similar situations, it continues to be challenging for those who want to help him. Even if there is a physical place to go, given Freeman’s challenges, not every place is the right one. 

“I lived in several places that were not accessible …  you know, I couldn’t fit in the bathroom [with his motorized wheelchair],” he said.

So, Freeman sits at WakeMed, at a cost to taxpayers that’s easily running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars — sums approaching the price of building or buying him his own place.  

Court rulings and federal law 

North Carolina’s system of care for people with mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities has been in crisis for the past several decades. Part of the turmoil has been driven by the limited amount of appropriate housing available.

In the past, North Carolina relied on adult care homes, group homes and large state-run facilities to house people who weren’t relying on family members for care. That situation spurred the 2012 action by the U.S. Justice Department, which found that North Carolina had an “institutional bias” for providing care — something that contradicts the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision

Despite those rulings, North Carolina has continued to lag in creating housing opportunities for people with disabilities.

In 2022, a judge forced the state’s hand with the Samantha R ruling, saying that North Carolina needed to provide more in-home disability services over the coming decade. That ruling was reinforced by a settlement between North Carolina Disability Rights and DHHS this spring.

That means there’s money for Freeman. He’s eligible for services under the state’s Transitions to Community Living initiative, which came out of that 2012 Justice Department settlement. He’s also one of the fortunate recipients of a place in the coveted Medicaid Innovations Waiver program, which provides extended services for people with disabilities so they can live and thrive in their home communities. Finally, he’s eligible for funding under the state’s Money Follows the Person program, which provides funds for people like him to have a home and services to keep him there.

In theory, Freeman should have multiple avenues to get a place, but theory and reality often don’t match up. 

“We in the disability community want the same ability to make these choices as individuals who may not have a recognizable disability,” said Julia Adams, a lobbyist at the legislature for people with disabilities who also is someone with a disability. “The problem that we have is we do not have enough housing options that allow for choice.”

“Even for those lucky people with an Innovations Waiver slot, it’s no magic ticket,” said Corye Dunn, the policy lead for Disability Rights North Carolina. “Our community service system is thin and desperately in need of investment to ensure a waiver slot provides meaningful access to services and supports.” 

Inappropriate placements

WakeMed and Freeman’s state-supported managed care organization (known as an LME-MCO), Alliance Health, are the organizations that have the responsibility to find Freeman housing. And, to a certain extent, so is the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“The people at Alliance keep saying, you know, ‘Oh, we’re looking, we’re looking, we’re looking,’” Freeman said. “They are telling me because my case is so complex for [Transitions to Community Living], they are telling me now there is a barrier. The occupational therapist, the physical therapist have to look at my case, before we can move forward.”

Alliance declined to discuss Freeman’s case, telling NC Health News that the organization maintains “an organizational policy of not discussing the treatment of our members in the media even if a member formally authorizes us to do so.”

Freeman said he’s been offered group home placement or placement with a family that’s not his own — neither of which he wants. 

“Not every individual wants to live in a group home or an Innovation Waiver group home, because maybe that is not where they are at this point of their lives,” Adams said. “They have relationships. Some of them have boyfriends, girlfriends. That’s difficult in a group home setting.”

That’s the case for Freeman, who said he has a boyfriend in the Triangle area. He said they’re not at a place in their relationship where they could live together. 

Tylor Freeman has worked on statewide initiatives to reform North Carolina’s guardianship program, in addition to other
advocacy efforts. Now he’s advocating for himself. Credit: Rose Hoban
Housing shortage gums up other priorities

WakeMed Chief Medical Officer Charles Harr said they see situations like this too often, where the hospital has trouble finding a place for patients who are being discharged.  

“Some of them are from people who have physical disabilities and require differing levels of care, or they’re close to independent but not totally independent,” Harr said. 

Harr said he knows the hospital isn’t the right place for Freeman, but they’re not going to just turn him out. 

There are a “significant number of folks who come in who don’t have a medical need,” Harr said. “Maybe it’s behavioral, maybe it’s homelessness, whatever has brought them to the emergency room, people just don’t know what to do. 

“Those we do not admit to the hospital, we maintain them in the emergency department until we can get appropriate placement for them.”

But Harr said that this reality means that often people sick with medical issues end up waiting in the emergency department for a bed upstairs that’s occupied by someone who’s simply waiting for someplace to go.  

“That’s happening to us one to two to three times a week now,” Harr said. 

And he said he’s not sure how to undo this Gordian knot that’s tied his organization’s hands.

“We as a hospital can’t force the patient to take an option, on the other hand, we have no … we have no sway over who the LME-MCO is,” Harr said. “I mean, Alliance, they’re getting money from the state, they’re placing people. So we’re collateral damage, just like those patients are. Because we can’t make anybody do anything in that situation.”

Harr estimated that the cost for Freeman’s care had long ago passed the $150,000 mark. 

“A hospital’s an expensive setting for care, and it is the most restrictive setting for someone to be in,” Adams said. “A hospital is not supposed to be a housing option.”

Piecing it all together

“Housing is really complex,” Kelly Crosbie, head of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Use Services for the state health department, told NC Health News. 

Crosbie said her department has been able to get thousands of people with disabilities out of congregate settings and into their own housing — with supports — over the past decade.

“We’ve invested lots of money, not only in housing, but also the transitional supports to get folks housing, and then the supports to help people maintain their housing. And lots of people’s lives have been changed dramatically,” Crosbie said.

But there still are an untold number of people like Freeman, who still don’t have the right housing or direct support workers to help them once they’re there.

“For folks who are lucky enough to have an Innovations Waiver slot, we still have problems staffing those slots because of direct care workforce shortages,” Adams, the lobbyist, said. “An innovation waiver slot does not really, you know, does not provide the array of choice for the housing portion.”

Crosbie noted that the department is launching a program to encourage people to become part of the direct support professional workforce. The department has also developed other plans and resources that they’re putting in place to create options for people like Freeman. 

While she said that she can’t speak directly about Freeman’s case, she did say that she was aware of his situation. 

“Now we have to make sure that housing stock is available, people know their choices and we have enough workforce to support people in this kind of independent living situation,” Crosbie said. “We don’t do housing, per se, but we’re trying to work with housing people to make sure that we have safe stock for people that have accessibility issues.”

But all these future plans don’t address what Freeman needs now, which is a place to go.  

“Until we sit down and have a real conversation about how do we provide choice, and supports, we are going to have folks who have a waiver and still have limited options,” Adams said.

“The entire reason why we have an innovation waiver is to provide a robust home and community-based support setting for folks. But we’re still not meeting that,” Adams added.

Freeman said he’s hanging in there after being in the hospital for months, but the wait is wearing on him. Recently he found an agency that will provide him with a personal care aide. All he needs now is a place to go. 

“I’m just speechless,” Freeman said. “But I will continue fighting. I’m fighting not just for myself, I’m fighting for other people. Because this is ridiculous.”

Full Article & Source:
Stuck in a hospital, hoping for a place of his own

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Thousands with disabilities subjected to segregation in these three states

by Michael Loria

A family wonders how a cousin “slipped through the cracks” and wound up in a state nursing facility not long after her 18th birthday; a mother wonders how she lost her daughter to the same system; and a woman in her late 50s longs to leave a state facility to see her family again.

These are among the findings of an extensive Department of Justice investigation into how three states – Missouri, Utah and Nebraska – illegally segregated people with mental health disabilities. Federal prosecutors found that the states are unnecessarily institutionalizing thousands of people in state facilities, cutting them off from family and the rest of society.

The investigations date back to March 2021 based on numerous complaints.

“I have a dream that one day I will be free. Free to live on my own, free to live within my community, free to have overnight visits with my grandchildren,” says Angela, the woman in her late 50s, in the Missouri report issued by the DOJ. The federal report quotes people by their first name only. “Free to not be told who I can associate with, free to not have someone place me in a nursing home and leave me, without any regard to my well-being mentally and physically, most of all just free to live my life.”

The investigations found widespread violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which says adults with disabilities must live in as integrated of settings as possible.

"This is about weaving people with disabilities into the tapestry of American life," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told USA TODAY. "This is about bringing an end to the unnecessary segregation and isolation of people with disabilities in our country. And it's about recognizing their dignity, their autonomy and their independence."

The investigations were published around the 25th anniversary of the 1999 Olmstead v. L.C. Supreme Court decision which upheld the principle that public entities must provide community-based services to people with disabilities to prevent segregation.

"Our work is about breathing life into the ADA's integration mandate," Clarke said. "We hope that our enforcement work sends a loud message to jurisdictions about the steps that they must take to comply with the law, and specifically to comply with the ADA."

The office of Missouri Gov. Michael L. Parson did not respond to requests for comment. The state cooperated with the Justice Department’s investigation, according to the report. 

The report from the DOJ is one in a slew of investigations that have also gone after Utah and Nebraska for similar practices.

A federal investigation into practices in Utah found that the state is segregating people with disabilities by placing them in isolated “warehouse-like” facilities for day programs; an investigation into Nebraska’s practices found the state was also placing people with disabilities into segregated day programs and segregated living facilities.

In a statement, Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services said it’s committed to improving state treatment of people with disabilities. Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services said it was disappointed with the Justice Department’s "allegations,” adding that Gov. Jim Pillen’s administration had already shown its commitment to improving care for people with disabilities.

'Highly restrictive and controlled' in Missouri

The 45-page DOJ report on Missouri’s treatment of people with mental disabilities details how the state systematically funneled people into state nursing facilities, even though almost none needed even short-term stays.

The facilities come with skilled caregivers and are commonly known as nursing homes. But more than half of the people covered in the report were under 65 and didn’t require the care offered. The people covered in the report had been inside them for at least three years on average, and around half were clustered at just 39 of the state’s 500 nursing facilities. 

The people interviewed in the report describe prison-like conditions at the facilities. 

“They are highly restrictive and controlled settings that isolate and segregate residents by severely limiting or entirely cutting off their relationships with loved ones and their community,” the report says, “preventing them from interacting with non-disabled people.”

The isolation inhibits residents from pursuing work or education, which the report called “hallmarks of a segregated institution.”

“My son had a life before they took him there and now, he has nothing,” the mother of a man named Kelvin is quoted in the report as saying.

The DOJ investigation was based on reviewing state documents, data and interviews with dozens of state officials and county officials who are appointed guardians for people with disabilities, plus 130 interviews with people directly impacted by the state’s practices. Investigators inspected over 60 sites, including psychiatric hospitals and sites housing people with mental health disabilities.

Rules, according to people who described the facilities as like jail, included no telephone use, mail, freedom to leave and just one hour outside per day.

How do people end up there?

Federal officials found Missouri relies on state institutions more than almost any other state. Nearly 3,300 people without Alzheimer’s or dementia have been in such institutions for over 100 days as of March 2023, according to the report. They hold an average of 95 residents but range in size from 47 to 225 people.

Missouri places people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia in its facilities at one of the highest rates in the country. At 10 of the 39 facilities, adults with either bipolar or schizophrenia diagnoses account for 82% to 90% of the population in 2021.

The people covered in the report have “low care needs.” Nationally, low-care residents account for 9% of people in nursing facilities; in Missouri, they account for 25%. The rate of people under 65 is more than twice the national rate of 18%. 

The report attributed the widespread practice to the state’s court-appointed guardianship system, which it called a “pipeline to a nursing facility.” The pattern in Missouri is that people with mental health disabilities cycle in and out of psychiatric hospitals; they get assigned a guardian, either family or a public administrator because they’re found to be unable to care for themselves; and then, frequently, the guardian places the person in state facilities.

Thousands have ended up in nursing facilities as a result of guardianship. One unnamed person cited in the report called the court-mandated oversight a “sentence to be locked in a (nursing facility).”

Guardians are also allowed to set limits beyond those set by the actual facilities.

“Prisoners have more rights than a person under guardianship has,” said a resident named Angela. “Anything I do or have pleasure in, like smoking, can be taken away (at) the whim of my guardian.”

Alternatives to institutions

The people in Missouri institutions instead need community-based services, according to the report, which allow them to live in their communities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. All are offered in the Midwestern state but not widely. 

The alternatives, the report says, include: 

◾ Assertive community treatment: an evidence-based model where people with mental health disabilities are treated by people trained in psychiatry, social work, nursing and other fields.

◾ Permanent supportive housing: another evidence-based model where the person with a disability is limited to spending up to 30% of their income on rent for housing that’s in a community or building not reserved for people with disabilities. 

◾ Peer support service: A type of mental health care provided by people with experience with mental health issues. 

◾ Mobile crisis services: Mental health providers respond to mental health emergencies like 911 intending to divert people from psychiatric hospitalization.

◾ Crisis stabilization services: These community settings serve as an alternative to emergency rooms for people experiencing mental health crises and aim to connect them to lasting care. 

Utah investigation

The DOJ found Utah was “segregating” people with disabilities, a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The federal investigators found the state has a practice of funneling people with disabilities into programs in “warehouse-like” settings in isolation from people without disabilities. In such settings, they aren't allowed to choose how to spend their time and cannot partake in typical community activities, including shopping, exercising, or meeting friends.

At the warehouses, they perform repetitive tasks like sorting through recycling, shredding paper, or folding laundry, often for less than minimum wage, the report says. The programs tend to target young people with disabilities who are transitioning out of school.

The report found the wait for state vocational programs providing long-term job support for people with disabilities is over five years long.

The Utah investigation began in March 2021 and was published this week. 

Joe Dougherty, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, issued a statement in response. 

“While nobody likes hearing that their programs still have barriers for people to receive services, the state of Utah sees people with disabilities as critical citizens in our state and is committed to improving our service system,” he said. “The benefit is reciprocal, as people in the community benefit from the talents, perspectives and experiences of people with disabilities.”

Nebraska pushes back

The DOJ’s investigation in Nebraska focused on people with serious mental illness. It found the state was also funneling people into segregated day programs and living facilities, rather than programs aimed at promoting integration.

State law, according to the report, mandates there be enough community-based programs to ensure people with mental illness can work and live independently. But around 5,000 people live in nursing facilities, many exclusively for people with disabilities.

Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services pushed back against what it called “allegations.”

Spokesperson Jeff Powell touted the creation of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics where anyone can get mental health care; the development of better programs to help people get disability accommodations; and the fact that it already offered employment and supportive housing programs.

Full Article & Source:
Thousands with disabilities subjected to segregation in these three states

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Iowa justices uphold guilty plea in abuse case but set aside sentence

By: Clark Kauffman

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday refused to set aside a woman’s guilty plea in a dependent adult abuse case despite finding several defects in the plea-agreement process and the sentencing.

The case stems from Shannon Hightower’s 2020 arrest in Black Hawk County on felony charges of dependent adult abuse and theft in the second degree. Court records indicate Hightower, now 39, had been granted power of attorney over a dependent adult female who was committed to a Cedar Valley facility, and that she then misused the woman’s money, opened new credit cards in the woman’s name, and then misused those cards.

The victim in the case lost $16,000 through Hightower’s actions, police alleged.

In January 2022, Hightower signed a written guilty plea to the original charges. The agreement with prosecutors said the state would either follow a presentence investigation or recommend a suspended sentence of five years. The written agreement also included a sentence, initialed by Hightower, that said “if the court does not accept the plea agreement, I may withdraw my plea of guilty.”

At Hightower’s sentencing 11 months later, District Court Judge Linda Fangman rejected the plea and sentenced Hightower to five years in prison, citing Hightower’s failure to pay restitution prior to the sentencing.

During the sentencing hearing, Hightower immediately expressed her shock at the sentence, telling the judge, “Can I just have one day, please? I haven’t even told my kids goodbye. I had no idea this was happening, your honor. I had no idea. I had none … I was told that there was an agreement and that I was supposed to be getting five years suspended — five years probation.”

After Hightower filed notice of appeal, Judge Fangman set an appeal bond in the amount of $17,000 cash only and ordered that the clerk notify whoever posted the bond that none of the money would be returned and would instead be used to satisfy victim restitution in the case.

In its ruling Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court noted that before a guilty plea can be accepted, the defendant must be advised of the maximum punishment – including financial penalties — for the offense to which they’re pleading guilty. The court noted that Hightower’s plea was inaccurate in that it stated the maximum fine was zero rather than $15,000.

The court, however found that despite that and several other defects in the plea deal, Hightower had failed to prove she would not have pleaded guilty had she fully understood the situation.

As for Hightower’s sentence, the justices found that Fangman improperly based her sentence on Hightower’s failure to pay restitution. “Prior to sentencing, Hightower hadn’t been ordered to pay restitution,” the justice noted. “The court’s reliance on Hightower’s failure to satisfy a nonexistent order was erroneous. Accordingly, resentencing is required.”

The justices also concluded the district court judge erred by ordering the forfeiture of the $17,000 appeal bond to satisfy victim restitution – an act the state later conceded was contrary to state law.

The court affirmed Hightower’s conviction, vacated her sentence, and reversed the district court’s decision to impose forfeiture requirements in the case. The justices remanded the case back to district court for resentencing before a different district court judge.

Justice Matthew McDermott filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice Susan Christensen. McDermott wrote that Hightower most likely would not have pleaded guilty had the defects in her plea deal not existed and so should be allowed to withdraw her plea.

“The written plea agreement that the district court accepted in this case was not only confusing but materially inaccurate, and resulted in the court laying down a sentence far harsher than the one that Hightower reasonably understood the court could impose,” McDermott stated. “When it comes to defects, this plea contains multitudes. And these defects go to the very heart of the plea agreement.”

McDermott went on to argue that the Supreme Court’s “approval of Hightower’s defective plea agreement, after all we’ve said in our rules and cases about the enduring requirement of voluntary and intelligent guilty pleas, makes our lofty pronouncements ring hollow.”

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Iowa justices uphold guilty plea in abuse case but set aside sentence

I-Team: Douglas County probate judge charged with felony in Atlanta

ATLANTA - Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson is facing multiple charges after she was arrested early Thursday in Atlanta. 

Jail records reveal Peterson is facing felony obstruction of a police officer by using threats or violence and simple battery against a police officer.

I-Team: Douglas County probate judge charged with felony in Atlanta

Monday, June 24, 2024

Douglas County probate judge charged with felony in Atlanta

By Johnny Edwards

Former Douglas County probate judge arrested

A controversial Douglas County judge who once put a bride behind bars, landed in jail herself earlier Thursday. Probate Court Judge Christina Peterson, booked into the Fulton County jail. Charged with felony obstruction and simple battery of a police officer. Last year, the state Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended Peterson be booted from the bench, then voters did that themselves in a Democratic primary.

Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson is facing multiple charges after she was arrested early Thursday in Atlanta.

Jail records reveal Peterson is facing felony obstruction of a police officer by using threats or violence and simple battery against a police officer.

According to an Atlanta Police report obtained by FOX 5, an officer working an extra job at the Red Martini Restaurant and Lounge on Peachtree Road in Buckhead went to speak with a woman who was crying in the lounge's valet area early Thursday morning. When the officer approached the woman, he allegedly was hit in the head by Peterson.

The report says that Peterson refused to identify herself and "appeared to be under the influence." After she was taken to jail, Peterson reportedly refused to tell officers her name and instead told them to notify another officer, who shared her identity.

The judge was scheduled to have her first appearance at Fulton County Magistrate Court on Thursday morning, but waived her appearance. 

Full Article & Source:
Douglas County probate judge charged with felony in Atlanta

‘Blind Side’ Subject Michael Oher’s Conservatorship Comes To An End: Judge Says They “Cannot Believe It Got Done” In The First Place

Story by Radhamely De Leon

A judge has ruled to terminate the conservatorship between Michael Oher and Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, whose tale inspired the Sandra Bullock movie The Blind Side.

The Associated Press reports that Tennessee judge Kathleen Gomes ruled to end the conservatorship almost 19 years after it was put in place. She expressed her disbelief that the Tuohys were even able to reach the conservatorship agreement in the first place, saying she had never seen a conservatorship be reached for a person who was not disabled in her 43-year career.

“I cannot believe it got done,” she said.

Though the conservatorship was terminated, the case was not dismissed. In his filing, Oher requested that they no longer be allowed to use his name or likeness. He also requested a full accounting of the money made from his life story and would like to receive his “fair share” of the profits.

Oher filed the lawsuit earlier this year, claiming he believed he had been adopted by Sean and Leigh Anne when he signed the agreement in 2004. He also accused the couple of profiting off of his life story.

“The lie of Michael’s adoption is one upon which Co-Conservators Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy have enriched themselves at the expense of their Ward, the undersigned Michael Oher,” Oher’s lawsuit filing reads.

The conservatorship, which was signed in 2004 when Oher was 18, gave the Tuohys complete legal authority over any of his business deals.

Photo: Getty Images

“Mike didn’t grow up with a stable family life. When the Tuohy family told Mike they loved him and wanted to adopt him, it filled a void that had been with him his entire life,” his attorney J. Gerard Stranch IV said when the lawsuit was filmed. “Discovering that he wasn’t actually adopted devastated Mike and wounded him deeply.”

Stanch claimed that Oher’s relationship with the Tuohys began deteriorating when he saw he had been portrayed as “unintelligent” in The Blind Side. He also allegedly realized he was the only member of the family who was not receiving royalty checks from the movie due to an agreement that he believes he was misled into signing.

He then hired a lawyer to investigate why, leading to his discovery that he had never been adopted by the family.

The Tuohys have since denied his claims, saying they have always thought of him as a son. Though their response filing said they were “ready, willing, and able to terminate the conservatorship by consent at any time,” per NBC News, they “vehemently” denied that they thought he was a “gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit.”

However, the filing does note that they “never intended to, and in fact never did, take any action to assume legal custody through the Juvenile Court of Shelby County.”

Oher and the Tuohys reportedly did not speak during the hearing.

Full Article & Source:
‘Blind Side’ Subject Michael Oher’s Conservatorship Comes To An End: Judge Says They “Cannot Believe It Got Done” In The First Place

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Missouri is putting people in nursing homes who don't belong there, DOJ says

by John Murphy

The department found Missouri puts adults with mental disabilities in nursing homes who do not require that care, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After an 18-month investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice has determined the state of Missouri is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily institutionalizing adults with mental health disabilities in nursing homes.

The department said in its Tuesday report that Missouri is failing to provide community-based services for these people. 

Supportive community-based services include assertive community treatment, case management, supported employment, mobile crisis response, crisis stabilization services, permanent supportive housing, peer support and supported decision-making, according to the report.

The Justice Department alleges Missouri is violating Title II of the ADA.

“People with mental health disabilities should not have to be confined to a nursing facility because they cannot access the community-based services they need," Kristin Clarke, the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a news release. 

Nearly half of these people unnecessarily placed in nursing facilities are under the age of 65, the investigation found.

"Most require little or no assistance with basic physical activities and simply don't need skilled nursing care," Clarke said in a video posted to the Department of Justice's website. 

Julie Schupp is the founder and CEO of Boone Supported Living, which helps people with mental health disabilities find community-integrated living accommodations.

Schupp said some of her organization's work includes getting people out of nursing homes. 

"That's one of the most fun things about my job is getting people out of the nursing homes that don't need to be there," Schupp said.

She said her organization receives 40% of its funding from the state and the other 60% from Medicaid, making it fully publicly funded — though it is independently operated.

Schupp said Boone Supported Living's biggest budget constraint is finding and paying employees. She said it's not only hard to find workers, but it's also hard work once they're hired.

"What we do is people's lives are in your hands," Schupp said. "This is a big job. You have to be a nurse, you have to be a taxi driver, you have to be a social worker. You have to have all these skills, and we have trouble staying above the curve." 

Schupp said living conditions for people with mental health disabilities have improved drastically from decades ago, including in nursing homes. 

Mathew Gass is the president of the Central Region of Burrell Health.

He said his organization has grown in staffing by 30%, but that still isn’t enough.

"I think individuals that are working in the mental health field or organizations that are hiring people to grow their mental health work force would also say a skilled workforce, the number of people that are going to college to study the mental health field — none of that has caught up with the increase in demand organizations like us have seen since the pandemic," Gass said.

KOMU 8 reached out to the Missouri Department of Mental Health regarding the Justice Department's report. It said it is currently reviewing the report.

As part of its report, the Justice Department encouraged anyone with relevant information to the matter to leave a voicemail at 833-610-1242 or email

Full Article & Source:
Missouri is putting people in nursing homes who don't belong there, DOJ says

Man arrested for rape of mentally disabled person, financially exploiting them, police say

by Isaac Embry

(Courtesy: Middlesex Township Police Department)

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. (WHP) — Middlesex Township Police have arrested Waren Mena on rape charges following a months long investigation. Mena is facing multiple sex crime charges after allegedly raping a mentally disabled person and financially exploiting a care dependent person.

A warrant for Mena's arrest was requested on June 20, followed by his arrested by Middlesex Police later that same day.

Mena was also arrested on charges of possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia before being transported to Cumberland County Prison.

Mena will have a preliminary arraignment in Cumberland County Court on July 3. 

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Man arrested for rape of mentally disabled person, financially exploiting them, police say

KS Insurance Commissioner touts new law to protect seniors from scams

A new law requires financial advisors to report suspect fraud concerning seniors or dependent adults.

By Melissa Brunner

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Scammers often prey on the most vulnerable people, which includes older adults.

A new law could offer extra protection. Kansas Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt visited Eye on NE Kansas to talk about it.

Earlier this year, lawmakers approved the Protect Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation Act. It requires financial advisors to report to the Kansas Insurance Dept. any suspected fraud concerning a senior citizen or dependent adult.

Schmit said it gives their investigators a tool to look into whether someone is acting legitimately, or if they’re engaged in nefarious activity. She said scammers often target older adults because they tend to have more liquid assets in their retirement accounts. Once the money is gone, Schmidt said, there’s only about a seven percent chance it will be recovered.

You can learn about investment scams and check if an entity is legitimate by visiting You can report fraud by calling 1-800-432-2484 or emailing

Full Article & Source:
KS Insurance Commissioner touts new law to protect seniors from scams