Videos of Dementia Patients Fighting Lead to Charges for 3 Workers

The anonymous tip to the Winston-Salem Police Department came in June. A caller said a cellphone video posted on social media showed two women with dementia at an assisted living center being encouraged by workers to fight each other, the authorities said.

Detectives went to the facility, Danby House in Winston-Salem, N.C., to investigate on June 21, days after the tip was received. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services inspected the residence in July and ordered it the next month to halt admissions.

Scrutiny of the alleged abuse of patients has expanded since the summer. This month, three workers at Danby House were charged with assault of a person with a disability, according to a police statement.

Local and national news outlets picked up the details of the state health agency’s inspection report on Danby House, describing a “dementia fight club” that operated secretly at the center.

But Lt. Eric Montgomery, an investigator with the Winston-Salem Police Department, said he did not know about “anything that would be characterized as a fight club,” though the investigation is not yet complete.

In a statement on Wednesday, Danby House said the fight was an “isolated incident” involving three employees who had worked there for less than a year. The center has since made changes in its leadership structure and added training.

“One of the effects of dementia can be aggressive behaviors and our staff is trained to de-escalate any acts of aggression in a safe manner,” the statement said. “These employees did not follow through with this training and were subsequently terminated, but the new care team in place at Danby House has been trained in how to properly handle any aggressive behaviors and that training will continue to be revisited on a regular basis.”

The patients involved in the fight still live at the facility, the statement said.

Detectives investigating the scope of the alleged abuse say their work is complicated by the fact that it involves residents who are unable to remember events or to speak for themselves. The two women involved in the fight are described in the state health agency’s report as “not interviewable” and disoriented.

“Typically with the average investigation, you want to examine all the evidence that you can, and that would include talking to the people involved,” Lieutenant Montgomery said on Wednesday.

“Sometimes we have to do an investigation that we don’t have a victim we can talk to, or children, or people who are not verbal, or seniors who have difficulty in recalling accounts of events,” he said. “That can make it difficult.”

One of the workers, Marilyn Latish McKey, 32, was charged with two counts of assault of a person with a disability, according to the police report. Two other workers, Tonacia Yvonne Tyson, 20, and Taneshia Deshawn Jordan, 26, were charged with one count each of the same charge, the report said. They could not be reached for comment.

The police statement said employees “allowed residents to fight with one another, encouraged the fighting of the residents and one employee physically assaulted a resident by shoving the resident.” The defendants are scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 14. Ms. Tyson was listed in Forsyth County jail records as being held on a parole violation, but the other defendants have apparently been released on bond.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that it “takes any allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation in licensed adult care homes very seriously,” adding, “In the matter of Danby House, law enforcement received an anonymous tip and notified the facility, which immediately terminated the employment of three staff members.”

There were no injuries, the report about the arrests said.

After it learned of the tip to the police, the state health agency sent an inspection team. A wide-ranging report provided details about “deficiencies,” such as employees who said they had not been fully trained in some aspects of patient care. The report was posted online, and The Winston-Salem Journal reported on it last week.

In a section under “Resident Rights,” the 82-page report said the facility had failed to ensure that three residents in the special care unit were free of abuse and neglect by the three employees.

One video shows a resident lying unattended on the floor while a staff member shoved another resident — a woman who was later depicted in the fight — into her room, the report said.

The second video, later shared on social media, shows the fight on June 19 between the woman and a third resident, who was hitting and kicking her in a bedroom, while she said, “Let go, help me, help me, let go,” the report said.

A staff member said, “Stop screaming,” and swore at the woman who was being struck. As the fighting was being recorded, “the staff continued to allow the residents to fight and did not intervene,” the report said. As one of the women “started to strangle” the second one, no one intervened, and one of the workers could be heard saying, “Punch her in the face.”

Another worker asked: “Are you recording?” “You going to send it to me?”

The three workers could be heard “talking, laughing and commenting” during the fight, the report said.

The employee who recorded the fight video told investigators that she did so because the woman being beaten up was a “pain in the butt.” The woman, who had a diagnosis of dementia, was disoriented and often screamed and yelled, the report said.

Christine Hauser is a reporter, covering national and foreign news. Her previous jobs in the newsroom include stints in Business covering financial markets and on the Metro Desk in the police bureau. @ChristineNYT

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