Two caregivers arrested last year on allegations of elder abuse have filed a $500,000 suit against Columbia County, alleging they were arrested wrongfully and that authorities took the ailing mother of one to the hospital without consent, leading to her death.
The Scappoose-based Columbia County Spotlight reported last week that lawyers for Sandra Anderson and her sister-in-law Nettie Anderson filed the wrongful death claim in U.S. District Court in Portland.
The Andersons were caring for Betty Newell, Sandra Anderson’s mother, when they were both arrested in a Rainier home in February 2017 for suspected elder abuse. According the complaint, the alleged abuse was never properly investigated, and the experience traumatized Newell, who died a few days after being transferred to the hospital, the complaint states.
At the time of the arrest, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office reported that Newell, 89, suffered from severe injuries from lack of care, according to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. Newell was taken by ambulance to St. John Medical Center and released the same day, the hospital said at the time.
Newell was living in Rainier with her daughter Sandra Anderson, then 61, and Nettie Anderson, then 69, according to the sheriff’s office. The Andersons had been providing care to Newell for an undetermined length of time, perhaps years, Sheriff Jeff Dickerson said then.
In the lawsuit, Sandra Anderson said she was a trained medical assistant with nearly 20 years’ experience and was helping care for her mother at the time. Newell also had regular visits from a hospice worker, and her designated caretaker, Nettie Anderson, was a licensed caregiver. Before her death, Newell was bedridden and had persistent bed sores. Her caretakers had her evaluated by a wound care nurse and were following a treatment plan, the lawsuit claims, according to an account of the suit in the Spotlight.
In February 2017, Newell was visited by a substitute hospice worker who saw her bed sores and filed a complaint with the Department of Human Services, suggesting Newell might be the victim of elder abuse and neglect.
Shortly afterward, DHS sent Bryan Cutright Sr., a DHS worker, to investigate. Cutright had previously worked with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office before taking a job with DHS.
Cutright’s visit grew contentious after he began photographing Newell and declined Anderson’s requests to see the photos, according to the suit. Tensions reportedly grew when Frank Anderson, Sandra’s husband, approached Cutright, commenting on a U.S. Marine Corps insignia on Cutright’s bag.
“Mr. Anderson said ‘I see you’re a Marine.’ Mr. Cutright replied ‘Yeah, I’m tough.’ Mr. Anderson answered ‘No, it means you’re a jarhead.’”
“Mr. Cutright became visibly upset, walked to where his face was inches from Mr. Anderson’s, and stared at him intently in an intimidating manner. Mr. Anderson repeated to Mr. Cutright several times that he needed to leave,” the complaint states.
Cutright returned the next day, on Feb. 23, 2017, with sheriff’s deputies, an ambulance and a DHS supervisor, according to the lawsuit. Sandra, Nettie and Frank Anderson were all placed in handcuffs. Mr. Anderson was eventually released, but Sandra and Nettie Anderson were taken to Columbia County Jail.
Cutright was not immediately available for comment.
“[The] County has condoned an ongoing pattern of severe action before a fair and thorough investigation could possibly justify such conduct,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs contend the hasty investigation and wrongful arrest ultimately led to Newell’s death.
“Plaintiff Newell, in her weak and fragile state, witnessed the cuffing, interrogation, and arrest of her daughter and Ms. Anderson,” the complaint states. “This traumatic experience deeply upset her, and from this time forward, she did not speak or eat again. Consequently, her condition began to rapidly deteriorate.”
A no-contact order was imposed against Sandra Anderson, prohibiting her from visiting her mother in the hospital. The court order was lifted on Feb. 27.
Newell died Feb. 28 after being transferred to a hospice facility. Nettie and Sandra Anderson were never indicted.
“As a result of these Constitutional violations, Plaintiff Newell was deprived of her freedom to be left alone, and to enjoy the rest of her life unharassed, surrounded by family, and to eventually die in peace,” the lawsuit states.
On Friday, Dec. 7, DHS representatives confirmed Cutright is still employed with the agency, but declined to go into detail about the protocol for investigations, citing an active lawsuit.
“The Aging and People with Disabilities (APD) program and Adult Protective Services are committed to ensuring the safety of older adults and people with disabilities,” Elisa Williams, a DHS communications officer, stated via email. “Adult Protective Services routinely refers abuse complaint cases to local law enforcement.”