Women ac­cused of elder abuse sent to diver­sion pro­gram

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - RON WOOD

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.

R. Austin

Schaf­fer

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