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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Deputy Cleared in death of 91-year-old

Collier deputy exonerated in death of 91-year-old blind Alzheimer’s patient
Naples News by LIZ FREEMAN, RYAN MILLS - February 7, 2009

NAPLES, FL — The Collier County Sheriff’s Office exonerated a former deputy of any wrongdoing in the death of a 91-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease who fell and hit his head after being pushed by the deputy outside an assisted living facility more than a year ago. Former Cpl. Karl Meier’s actions were “reasonable under the circumstances,” the Sheriff’s Office reported. However, Ted Zelman, an attorney representing the 91-year-old’s family, said that Meier acted negligently, and is demanding $200,000 in damages from the Sheriff’s Office. “Our claim is that this particular deputy acted intemperately,” Zelman said. “He had no reason to push a 91-year-old blind man, and that his doing so was in law negligent behavior.” Meier was dispatched to the Encore Senior Village, 1155 Encore Way in North Naples, just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 13, 2007, after resident Henry Dean broke through a metal gate outside his cottage, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

Dean, who had Alzheimer’s disease and was legally blind, broke off an aluminum bar in the gate outside his cottage, swung it around, and then slid through the gate, reports said. “At that point he said he wanted a gun and he wanted to shoot himself and others,” said Barbara Linebaur, Encore’s assistant program director. Linebaur instructed staff members to stay a safe distance from Dean because she “didn’t want anybody to get hurt,” according to a recently completed investigation. When Meier arrived, he asked employees what they wanted to do with Dean, who he knew from a previous encounter two weeks earlier when Dean escaped from the center and struck Linebaur and another employee, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

Dean, who was wearing blue pajamas and brown shoes, approached Meier with his hands raised above his waist, and touched Meier in the chest. “I think he wanted to feel the officer’s badge,” Encore employee Robert Mercer said. Linebaur said Dean pushed Meier. Meier told investigators he extended his elbows and pushed Dean back “maybe two inches at the most.” “Once I made contact with him, Henry either didn’t have the capability with the age, but his legs didn’t seem to come back, you know, his forward momentum was still coming toward me,” Meier told investigators. “When I made contact with his chest, like I said, I drove it back approximately two inches, if that. “He went straight down to the ground.” Employees heard Dean’s head crack on the concrete. He was transported to NCH North Naples Hospital, where he died of a blunt force head injury that night. Several employees told investigators that they believed Meier “used a little too much force.”

Sheriff’s Chief Jim Williams said most of the evidence supported Meier’s actions as lawful, proper and reasonable. Deputies don’t have to allow themselves to be injured, which can make a situation more dangerous, Williams said. “Mr. Dean came toward the deputy. The deputy put up his hands to keep him from closing in on him,” Williams said. Zelman said Dean had no ability to hurt anyone, and that all Meier had to do was retreat. “To me, it’s pretty apparent that what he should have done is try to defuse the situation and not make it worse,” Zelman said.

Though deputies can retreat if the situation calls for it, Williams said Meier was there to help control the situation. “He was called there because Mr. Dean was not able to be controlled by the staff of the facility,” Williams said. In August 2008, Meier resigned from the Sheriff’s Office, not in good standing, after he was accused of insubordination during another case. Records indicate he was going to be fired. Meier started with the Sheriff’s Office in 1995, and had a long history of reprimands. In 1997 he was reprimanded for stepping on the neck of a DRILL (juvenile academy) candidate, and in 2003 he was reprimanded for lying about driving his patrol car while intoxicated.

He now works in loss prevention at a local Wal-Mart. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful. “The question is, should he have been out there responding to calls like this?” Zelman asked. The State Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against Meier. In September, Zelman submitted a six-month notice to the Sheriff’s Office claiming $200,000 in damages on behalf of Dean’s widow and estate. Zelman declined to discuss his dealings with Encore. “All differences between my clients and Encore have been settled, and the terms of the settlement are confidential,” he said. Chuck Pollard, president of the Alzheimer’s Support Network in Collier County, said he had spoken directly to then-Sheriff Don Hunter about what happened at Encore. “He was 100 percent behind Meier,” Pollard said.

Hunter considered Meier one of the most capable deputies to interact with someone with dementia because the deputy had just put his own mother on an airplane to go live in an assisted-living facility somewhere, Pollard said. “I should have said he was an exhausted caregiver and shouldn’t have been (on duty),” Pollard said. Meier knew Dean was frail and had dementia, Pollard said. “This thing has bugged me for a long time and it shouldn’t have happened,” he said. The Sheriff’s Office used to be good about how deputies handled calls to nursing homes and assisted living facilities with dementia patients but that’s all fallen by the wayside, along with the dismantling of its senior services program, Pollard said.

Officials with the state Agency for Health Care Administration conducted its investigation of Encore shortly after Dean’s death and cited the assisted-living center for five deficiencies for noncompliance with standards and regulations. The citations involved failure to keep detailed accounts of major adverse incidents and failure to report them to the state agency, for not updating risk assessments of residents and for not keeping the premises in safe and sound condition. Dean escaped a first time on Nov. 29 when he pulled out a hollow aluminum bar from an exterior gate and a maintenance supervisor reinstalled the bent bar. It was the same bent bar that Dean pulled out during his second escape that led to his death. The maintenance supervisor admitted to the state health inspectors that the aluminum bar was weakened from being bent the first time.

In addition, the state inspectors found a bottom plate was missing from a gate key pad, which enabled a 73-year-old resident to escape by pulling out a wire in June 2007. Including that incident, there were four escape attempts in 2007, according to the state reports. Encore in Naples was sold in October to Juniper Communities, based in Bloomfield, N.J., and renamed Juniper Village at Naples. Officials with Encore, headquartered in Portland, Ore., couldn’t be reached for comment. “I think this whole thing did Encore in,” Pollard said. “It is just speculative. If I was found with the problem, I would clean house and get out.”

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