Murder Alleged at a Nursing Home

     YORK, S.C. (CN) – A nursing home could have prevented a resident’s murder had it properly dealt with an employee who had forged an elderly woman’s checks – and then killed her, the late woman’s estate claims in court.
     Paul Sullivan, as personal representative of the Estate of Pauline Cook, sued ACTS Retirement-Life Communities dba Park Pointe Village, its director of resident nursing Neva Lattimer, and a chef at the home, Marvin Lawrence, in York County Court.
     Pauline Cook moved with her husband to an apartment in the Park Pointe Village retirement community in Rock Hill, S.C., in 1998. After he died, she moved to a smaller apartment, but was not able to live there for long due to her propensity to fall, according to the complaint.
     In July 2011, Cook moved into the Park Pointe Village assisted living facility. Five months later she discovered that someone had been writing checks from her checking account, forging her signature on the checks. Cook discovered that all the forged checks were made payable to a Braquette Walton.
     Cook asked employees and other residents whether they knew the person. Sullivan claims that defendant Marvin Lawrence, a chef, identified Walton as a fellow employee, and told Cook to speak with Walton’s supervisor, defendant Neva Lattimer.
     Cook and Lattimer notified the Rock Hill Police Department, but did not take immediate action to stop Walton, according to the complaint.
     “Despite knowing of the allegations of Walton’s criminal conduct, Lattimer chose to take no immediate action against Walton; Lattimer did not change Walton’s work schedule, she took no action to bar Walton from the premises or to prevent Walton’s reentry, and she did not inform any staff that police had substantial evidence that Walton had stolen from Pauline,” the complaint states.
     “Instead, Lattimer assured Pauline that she would do so when Walton returned to work on her next scheduled day.”
     In the meantime, Sullivan says, Lawrence called Walton and informed her of Cook’s suspicions.
     Acting on that information that night, the complaint states, Walton used her electronic entry card to get into the Park Pointe Village assisted living building where Cook lived. Once inside, she allegedly concealed herself inside the tea room until the hall was clear.
     During this time, “Walton continuously called the nurses’ station phone to monitor the nurses’ locations, hanging up the phone as soon as it was answered. Despite these unusual activities occurring, the nurses on duty never sought help from security or law enforcement and never attempted to secure or even monitor Pauline’s room,” Sullivan says.
     When the hallway was clear, Sullivan says, Walton entered Cook’s unlocked unguarded room and confronted the elderly woman about her allegations. Sullivan claims that Walton admitted she had cashed Cook’s checks and offered to pay her back.
     “When Pauline attempted to reach for the phone in her room, Walton grabbed the phone from Pauline and as Pauline tried to call out for help began to smother Pauline,” the complaint states. “As Pauline struggled for her life, Walton beat her about her face and body, causing bruises and other wounds to Pauline’s torso, arms, neck, and face.
     “After Pauline stopped moving, Walton checked her for a heartbeat in three separate locations but found no pulse. Walton then turned on the light in Pauline’s room and saw Pauline’s blood covering the pillowcases, the headboard, and the sheets of Pauline’s bed.
     “Walton decided to stage the scene of Pauline’s murder and attempt to make it appear to be an accidental death. Walton used a bed sheet to drag Pauline’s lifeless body to the shower; she removed Pauline’s nightgown; and placed Pauline’s naked body halfway inside of the shower, to make it appear as though Pauline had fallen while bathing.
     “Walton packed the sheets and pillows that were soaked with Pauline’s blood into a plastic bag. She then turned on the shower and left the room. Upon information and belief, she disposed of the evidence of the murder in a trash compactor outside of the facility.”
     An employee found Cook’s body the next day.
     “An autopsy concluded that from the bruising around Pauline’s eyes, nose and mouth, it appeared that Pauline’s death was caused from being suffocated and the bruising was not consistent with an accidental fall,” the complaint states.
     It adds: “Walton was arrested for murder on November 17, 2011. Shortly thereafter, Walton gave a statement describing the events on November 12, 2011. Her statement was consistent with what is set forth above.”
     The estate seeks compensatory and punitive damages for negligence, wrongful death, negligent supervision, and wanton and reckless misconduct.
     The estate is represented by Richard A. Harpootlian of Columbia, S.C.

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