In 2011, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist created the Elder Abuse Unit to hold offenders accountable and assist the community in preventing elder abuse crimes. In a June 15 letter to the editor, a Tacoma Weekly reader seemed confused about what our office was doing with an award of nearly $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice we won for our Elder Abuse Unit. The money is being used to coordinate a comprehensive approach to protecting elders and other vulnerable adults as well as holding accountable those who victimize the elderly.
One major component of this comprehensive approach was the formation of the Coordinated Community Response Team. This group includes prosecutors, law enforcement, the Attorney General’s Office, Adult Protective Services, the Korean Women’s Association, and other stakeholders.
Our vision is to create a safe community for vulnerable adults. Since forming the Elder Abuse team, we have convicted 270 people of elder abuse, we have assisted hundreds of constituents, and we have raised awareness and provided useful information on elder abuse to thousands of people.
Here are three of the 270 convictions:
State v. Jenaro Matthews
Jenaro Matthews head-butted his 67-year-old mother, who is in a wheelchair, and struck her numerous times, causing broken ribs and a punctured lung. He was found guilty of assault in the second degree and sentenced to an exceptional sentence of 100 months in prison.
State of Washington V. Larry Lee
In June of 2016, Larry Lee was sentenced to more than 18 years after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder for the death of Philip Carter, an elderly man with a mild mental impairment in his care. Carter was admitted to the hospital after Lee found him unresponsive. Carter was treated for several large, deep bed sores, the worst of which was 8×13 inches and went down to the bone. The sores had been packed with paper towels and the failure of proper care resulted in serious infection that caused Carter’s death within hours of arriving at the hospital. Medical professionals called it one of the worst cases of neglect they had seen.
State of Washington v. Terry Shepard
A jury convicted Terry Shepard last week of attempted rape in the second degree and two counts of indecent liberties. Shepard was night shift supervisor at Rainier State School in Buckley. One of the victims was non-verbal and autistic and had been a resident at the school for 42 years. The other victim was 65 years old with cerebral palsy and has been a resident for 55 years. Shepard will be sentenced to an indeterminate life sentence. The jury found two aggravators for each count – that Shepard abused his position of trust and the victims were particularly vulnerable. Sentencing is set for July 27.
In these three cases, and in every case, we hold offenders accountable and support victims. Prosecutor Lindquist and I and others from our office have given informational presentations to councils, police, firefighters, emergency department doctors and nurses, colleges, senior living facilities (for residents and staff), insurance companies, banks and credit unions, civic clubs and community organizations.
Because of these presentations, the community is more informed than ever before about elder abuse, how to spot it, and what to do about it.
There was a time when elder abuse was considered a family problem or a civil issue. Those days are long gone in Pierce County. Your Prosecutor’s Office is a leader in the state for prosecuting and preventing elder abuse.