Arraignment for two young women comes Wednesday

Published 9:10 am Monday, January 19, 2009

The two teenagers charged as adults in the case of alleged abuse at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea will be arraigned in Freeborn County District Court this week on charges ranging from mandated failure to report suspected abuse to criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult and assault in the fifth degree.

Albert Lea High School graduates Brianna Broitzman and Ashton Michelle Larson, both 19, will appear in court at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Each face 10 or more charges, all of which are gross misdemeanors.

Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson said the appearances Wednesday are classified as Rule 5 hearings, which are first appearances for people charged by way of a summons and complaint. They can be combined with Rule 8 hearings.

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He said he thinks on Wednesday both Broitzman and Larson will appear with their lawyers, so it is likely it will be a combined hearing for both. The hearing will be brief.

The judge will explain the nature of the charges, and Nelson said he will make a motion that the defendants be booked, photographed and fingerprinted.

The judge will also advise the two teenagers of their rights.

“Because the defendants are charged with gross misdemeanors, and because they likely have had an opportunity to consult with a lawyer, the defendants could enter a plea of guilty,” Nelson said.

If the Rule 8 hearing is not combined with the Rule 5 hearing, the judge will set the date and time for that one, and then he will set the conditions under which the teenagers can be released under promises to appear later in court, Nelson said.

If the Rule 8 hearing is combined, then prosecutors would have to provide the court and the defendants with a list of known possible trial witnesses, along with all of the reports, statements and evidence that the state could possibly use at a trial, he said. The date and time for an omnibus hearing would also be set.

“Motions for discovery, suppression, admissibility, change of venue and other matters will be made prior to an omnibus hearing and can be made up to and through the time of trial for certain matters,” Nelson said.

All of the hearings will follow the requirements in the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure if people are interested in finding out more about the process.

Freeborn County prosecutors charged Broitzman and Larson as adults in the case in December, along with four others who were charged as juveniles for mandatory failure to report suspected abuse. All of the teenagers are now adults.

The charges came after an investigation into allegations of abuse by the Albert Lea Police Department, the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Health. The 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 state that the two teenagers allegedly 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.

The charges spurred many questions, along with feelings of anger, frustration and sadness among community members and people across the nation, drawing attention to Albert Lea from major television networks including NBC’s “Today” show. It also attracted the attention of Wes Bledsoe, founder and president of A Perfect Cause, a nationally known watchdog group for nursing homes.

Going into the arraignment this week, Broitzman’s lawyer, Lawrence Maus of Baudler Baudler Maus & Blahnik, declined to comment about his client or the case. A lawyer for Larson has not yet been filed, as of Friday morning.

Mark Dickerson, communications director for Good Samaritan Society, said he hopes the Wednesday arraignment will give people a clearer timeline of how things will play out for the case in court.

“We’re just hoping that this keeps on moving forward,” Dickerson said. “The center has been waiting as has the community for this arraignment to come.”

Nelson said he is continuing to review the evidence obtained “to glean as much information as possible from the evidence and to understand and interpret that evidence as fully as possible.”

He said the investigation is ongoing and will continue to be that way until the time of the actual trial.

Look to for the results of the arraignment shortly after it has finished on Wednesday.