Thursday, July 19, 2007

Police Want Law To Protect Disabled Adults

By Susan Williams Staff writer West Virginia

Before she was rushed to a hospital almost two years ago, Naomi King was so starved her body was feeding on itself to keep her heart and brain alive, a doctor said.

But a police officer who investigated the case said Wednesday he could have been faced with only bringing a misdemeanor charge against the woman’s caregiver under current West Virginia law.
Detective Sgt. Jim Sizemore with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department began his investigation into King’s last days in December 2005. Emergency responders found King naked in a virtually empty camper trailer parked in the yard of King’s cousin, Jewell L. Parsons.

Parsons, 44, was sentenced to prison Tuesday after jurors found her guilty of three felony counts that related to her fatal neglect of her cousin and embezzlement of her cousin’s money.

Sizemore said there are many West Virginia laws that can be applied to parents or guardians if they abuse a child and cause the child’s death.

“But with an incapacitated adult or an elderly person, I would have had to charge the caregiver with a misdemeanor if I could not have proven intent,” Sizemore said. “I thought, this is ludicrous.”

He and other officers approached Fayette County legislators about the issue. Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, introduced a bill that would have included elder abuse language in the law similar to the language that defines child abuse resulting in injury or death.

The legislation passed the House quickly two years in a row, but has died in the Senate each time, Sizemore said.

“This is needed legislation,” he said. “Somebody has to speak up for the victim.”
Relatives took care of King after her parents died. Sizemore said Assistant Fayette County Prosecutor Anthony Ciliberti told him after the trial that this was the first case he ever prosecuted where there were no family members present in the courtroom for the victim.

Sizemore said he has investigated another case of abuse in Fayette County that was almost as bad as King’s case.

“If this has happened twice in Fayette County in five years, I know it is happening elsewhere. It’s just a matter of time before it happens again,” he said. “We see the financial abuse of the elderly all the time. One local law firm jokes it is ‘take Granny to the bank.’”

Sizemore hopes legislators will take up the bill in the next session and give law enforcement more to work with.

“In my mind,” he said, “the elderly or incapacitated adults are just like children, if they do not have the capacity to take care of themselves. Miss King was at the mercy of whoever was taking care of her.”

To contact staff writer Susan Williams, use e-mail or call 348-5112.

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