There are cases that catch our eye because we serve our community as a law firm for elder abuse victims in Panama City and throughout Northwest Florida. Other cases catch our eye simply because we are human. In this case, we heard brief mention of a terrible case of abuse on the news and felt compelled to seek out more information, in part because we hoped we'd misunderstood; we hadn't. This case is a reminder that elder neglect can occur outside of the nursing home setting and can go hand-in-hand with financial exploitation.
As reported by Reuters news service, police in Houston discovered four elderly men living in squalor last Friday when the followed reports that people were being held captive in a North Houston home. Kees Smith, a spokesman for the Houston police, said that the four men were living in a room in the garage that contained only a single chair, no beds, and no toilets. There were double locks on the door. Reports note that the victims included an 80 year old, a 74 year old, and a man in his 50s. The age of the fourth man was not released. Authorities said that, as of Saturday, three of the men were in stable condition at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, where doctors were treating them for malnutrition. The fourth man had been taken to police headquarters for questioning.
At the scene, all four of the men told officers that they had been enticed to the home by promises of beer and cigarettes. They had not been allowed to leave. The captives reported being forced to give their government-benefit checks to their captors, including veterans' payments. Police noted that the men had conflicting accounts as to how long they had been held at the home. At first, some of the men said they'd been at the home for up to ten years, but they later changed that story. In addition to the four men, police discovered three disabled females at the home. The women lived in the main area of the home and police said they had not been kept against their will. The women's ages were not released.
Following the discovery of the elderly men, police arrested 31 year-old Walter Jones. They charged him by injury to the elderly by act as well as injury by omission. Jones' grandmother owns the home which tax records suggest totaled just over 1,400 square feet. The converted garage of the three-bed, 1.5 bath house had been painted bright purple, with a linoleum floor, and bars placed on the windows and the door. Overall, police believe nearly 10 people have been residing in the house.
It is not clear who made the reports that drew police to the Houston home. However, this case is a good reminder that the "see something, say something" rule applies to suspicions of elder abuse. We welcome calls from people with questions about elder abuse, even if you aren't sure if a situation qualifies as abuse. Another important resource is the Florida Department of Elder Affairs' Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873), a toll-free number staffed 24/7.
The Houston case is also a reminder that the various forms of elder abuse often overlap. In some cases, perpetrators use physical abuse and neglect as means to gain control of a senior's finances. We always work with the victim and trusted loved ones to make sure that all of the victim's financial resources are intact. Being thorough ensures that the wrongdoer doesn't get away with fraud and also ensures the victim receives full and fair compensation for all related injuries and financial losses. We can't undo the abuse, but we are committed to helping victims recover all of the monetary damages due under the law.