Abuse case attracts national attention

Published 9:19 am Friday, December 5, 2008

As repercussions continue to come to the community because of the charges of alleged abuse at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea, several members of the national news media are continuing their efforts to find answers to questions still lurking about the case.

Also, the topic was part of the discussion Thursday at the preagenda meeting of the Albert Lea City Council because one of the suspects was a seasonal city employee.

On Thursday, reporters for NBC’s “Today” show and the Associated Press tried to meet with Good Samaritan Society Administrator Mark Anderson and other members of the community.

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On Monday, Albert Lea High School graduates Brianna Broitzman, 19, and Ashton Larson, 18, were charged in Freeborn County District Court with more then 10 counts each, for allegations ranging from mandated failure to report abuse to criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult and assault in the fifth degree at the nursing home. Four other juveniles were also charged for mandated failure to report suspected abuse.

The alleged abuse took place over a five-month period earlier this year.

The Albert Lea Tribune joined the efforts to speak with Anderson in person about the case but to no avail.

Earlier on Thursday, the nursing director at the care facility told the news reporters that the administrator was scheduled to come back to Albert Lea to meet after he finished an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune in Lakeville.

But when reporters from the Albert Lea Tribune and the Associated Press came to meet with Anderson, another member of the Good Samaritan staff said Anderson would not be coming back.

The Tribune has left at least a half dozen messages for Anderson for comment since Monday but has not yet received a return call.

Attempts have also been made to call the homes of Broitzman and Larson with no response.

The Associated Press has produced a video that online viewers of AlbertLeaTribune.com
can watch. The site has a section for AP videos. Tribune Editor Tim Engstrom is interviewed in the video.

The Tribune has learned of a potential lawyer for one of the defendants in the case and sought to reach that lawyer, but he was out of the office late Thursday. Because the arraignment is not slated for about a month and a half — Jan. 21 — people close to the situation say it is likely the defendants’ families are taking their time selecting lawyers.

Details of the allegations surfaced after the release of the Department of Health’s report in August that concluded four teenagers were involved in verbal, sexual and emotional abuse of 15 residents at the nursing home in Albert Lea. The residents suffered from mental degradation conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Court papers filed with the charges Monday stated that the two teenagers spit water on residents, poked residents in the breasts, antagonized residents and tried to arouse residents by inappropriately touching them in the genitals, among other actions.

Broitzman and Larson face one year in jail and/or a payment of a fine of not more than $3,000 for each of the fifth-degree assault counts; not more than one year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine for each of the criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult counts; one year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine for each of the disorderly conduct counts; and 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for the mandated failure to report counts.

Impacts on the city

The effects of alleged abuse at Good Samaritan Society have already begun to impact other areas in the community.

Albert Lea City Manager Victoria Simonsen explained to members of the Albert Lea City Council on Thursday that Larson has worked as a seasonal employee at City Arena in the past.

Because of the allegations pending against the teenager, however, Simonsen said she and other city staff made the decision earlier that day to take her off the schedule.

Even though Larson has not been convicted of the crimes, the city wanted to err on the side of caution, as the teenager would be working around children, Simonsen said.

“It’s one of those negative PRs we really don’t need,” she said, especially with the broadcasting of positive news such as the local Dirk and Susan DeVries family appearing on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” at 7 p.m. Sunday.

She noted she also hoped the news about the alleged abuse wouldn’t affect the city’s application to Blue Zones, an authority in human longevity and health, for a possible health makeover. One of the Blue Zones’ most important points is respect for the elderly, she said.

Simonsen also told the councilors that she and other staff have already started receiving e-mails from people across the nation who have heard about the case and who’ve wanted to respond.

Some have written in their e-mails that “the nation is watching,” and others have talked about how they think the charges should be more severe, she said.

Newly appointed Freeborn County District Court Judge Steven R. Schwab, the former Albert Lea city attorney, will be the judge handling the case. Simonsen said she learned that from Schwab.

Online comments

Online comments after Albert Lea Tribune stories revealed early reactions to the allegations of abuse at the Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea.

Some called for resignations. Some wanted Good Sam administrator Mark Anderson to lose his position and others wanted Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson to lose his.

A commenter called demo1960 claimed to have worked at Good Sam at one time: “I could tell you some things that would not bring a good light to Mark Anderson. He lacks empathy and is worried about the bottom line which is actually his job. But like I said his lack of empathy in some cases really bothered me.”

The person went on to say the nursing home needed to be held accountable.

Others defended the nursing home. This comment came from trimotor: “A few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch. My wife is at Good Samaritan. There are many good people working there. These girls are not guilty yet. A lot of people have already tried them and found them guilty.”

But there were many more comments from people who were outraged about gross misdemeanor charges not being felony charges. Some were so angry they said things that warranted removal of their comments.

One person called nisperos said: “I can’t believe that the women probably won’t serve jail time, especially given that the offenses appear to have been multiple, egregious, pre-planned, at least some were done for an audience, and the stories were re-told for laughs and bragging rights.”

Cincymom wrote: “As the daughter of an Alzheimer’s patient, I am sickened beyond belief at what these young women have done. The thought of them only receiving ‘probation’ for these horrendous crimes seems a crime in itself! I hope the people of your community will express to your elected officials and prosecutor the need for a much harsher punishment.”

Some were concerned about the image of Albert Lea.

A commenter called seventyone wrote: “Unfortunately this does reflect on the community and very badly. Now when people talk about Albert Lea, it will be known as the city that let the teens get away with abuse on the elderly.”

Some commenters indeed were from out of the area. One called WashingtonState said: “Hey Albert Lea, you hit the big time! You should be so proud of your girls! I had never heard of Albert Lea before this morning. And now I know all I want to know.”

Jo2008 had concerns about the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” airing on Sunday: “The girls should be punished very much so, but I don’t think it should be on national news. This coming Sunday on ‘Extreme Makeover’ will be the family that lives near Albert Lea. When people know that, they’re not going to want to see the wonderful things this family did because they’re going to relate this show with the girls who have been abusing others. This is too bad for the community and I hope people know that this shouldn’t reflect on the community. I lived in Albert Lea for 18 years, and I know that many are not happy about this controversy because Albert Lea is a much better place than what is being portrayed.”

Some defended the city’s image. One was minnmom: “It is not the town that is the problem. The thing is that no matter where you are you have crap that goes on, and at least maybe now that it is national, something might get down with it all. Albert Lea is not bad because of a few people. There is trash all over and it’s all around you. You might not hear of it as much but it is there.”

And some defended the defendants, such as dolphin, who wrote about the four women facing juvenile charges: “You need to remember that the other four didn’t do anything, they just failed to report it. That is not the same. They were all afraid to report it cause they didn’t want to lose friends. Haven’t you ever been under peer pressure or anything on that order? I still feel sorry about the other four because they got pulled into it.”