Women accused of elder abuse sent to diversion program
FAYETTEVILLE — Two women charged with elder abuse will get help through a diversion program rather than facing prosecution.
Rose Mary Austin, 76, and Evelyn Schaffer, 54, both of Fayetteville, were arrested June 20, 2016, in connection with felony abuse of an endangered or impaired person after authorities found Mildred Lee Austin, 85, unresponsive and covered in feces and trash at their home, according to a preliminary arrest report. Austin and Shaffer entered not guilty pleas.
Mildred Austin died a short time later. An autopsy indicated she died of natural causes unrelated to abuse.
“Essentially what we’re doing is diverting the case for a year in order for them to fulfill certain conditions, and if they don’t, then we’re
kind of back at square one, back with the charges,” said Mieka Hatcher, deputy prosecutor. “Basically, they’re in need of some services in order to take care of themselves.”
The diversion will require both women to undergo counseling and will provide them with help to clean up their house and make it habitable. If they complete terms of the program, charges will be dropped.
“This is a family that is in crisis. All the individuals needed help,” Hatcher said. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of services out there for elderly people that are having trouble taking care of themselves.”
Wayne Williams, attorney for Austin and Schaffer, said the women’s house is filled with literally decades of clutter.
“We’re going to get them some life skills counseling and some services out there to help them get the house in better shape,” Williams said. “It was just an unfortunate series of events. I do think a lot of people jumped to conclusions before all the facts were in.”
Williams said Hatcher was open to exploring what happened and finding a creative solution.
“There was absolutely no criminal intent on the part of either of these ladies,” Williams said. “It was just a situation that got out of control and, I think Mieka agrees with this, prosecuting them was just not the proper approach to take to this.”
Hatcher said prosecution is only one tool available to her.
“A lot of it is trying to do justice and fix things,” Hatcher said.
Firefighters were called to the home June 19, 2016 over concerns about Mildred Austin’s breathing, according to the report. Firefighters struggled to get in because stacks of newspapers and magazines blocked the door.
They found Mildred Austin on a couch clothed only in a shirt and barely breathing, according to the report.
Rose Mary Austin, described in the report as the woman’s caregiver, told police her sister fell a week before and was placed on the couch where she remained for several days. Evelyn Shaffer was identified as the elderly woman’s daughter.
Hatcher said other family members told her Mildred Austin did not want to go to the hospital.
Rose Mary Austin and Schaffer received court-ordered evaluations at the Arkansas State Hospital.
Shaffer was found to have schizoid personality disorder. However, the doctor who examined her found she doesn’t suffer from a mental disease or defect and has the capacity to appreciate the criminality of her actions and could conform her conduct to the requirements of the law, according to a report.
Rose Mary Austin was found to have dependent personality traits, but doesn’t suffer from a mental disease or defect, doctors found. She has the capacity to appreciate the criminality of her actions and could conform her conduct to the requirements of the law, according to her report.