Witness: Broitzman’s statements inconsistent

Published 10:40 am Friday, June 26, 2009

Though Brianna Broitzman denied being verbally, physically or emotionally abusive to any resident at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea during her Minnesota Department of Health investigation interview, her statements were not consistent with statements obtained from other nursing assistants, state investigator Jolene Bertelsen testified in Freeborn County District Court Thursday.

During what was the last testimony to be heard in Broitzman’s contested omnibus hearing, Bertelsen explained the background of the state investigation into alleged abuse at the local Good Samaritan Society, specifically focusing on what led up to and took place during an interview with Broitzman. The state interview came after an interview by local law enforcement last May.

The 19-year-old now faces 11 charges ranging from fifth-degree assault to criminal abuse by a caregiver and mandatory failure to report suspected abuse.

Her lawyer, Larry Maus, is questioning the constitutionality of the statements his client made to investigators in the case.

In May, Maus questioned whether Broitzman was issued a Miranda warning by local law enforcement officials and whether some of the investigators’ statements were “threats, promises or coercion.”

Though he earlier indicated he might call Broitzman to the stand as a witness for the defense in this portion of the hearing, on Thursday Maus said he and his client made the decision to not offer any evidence and to instead rely on the record.

Maus and Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson now have until July 9 to submit written briefs, and then the issues will be under advisement of the court.

Judge Steve Schwab said there are actually two issues at hand: Probable cause assessment and whether Broitzman’s statements were obtained constitutionally.

Maus said at the end of the Thursday hearing that he has moved away from pressing the probable cause issue and is now focusing on the constitutionality of the statements under the Fifth and Sixth amendments — mainly of the local law enforcement interview.

He said there was nothing incriminating to his client in the Department of Health interview, and she was clearly warned under the Tennessen statement.

The Department of Health report was released last August. It 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.

Interview with Bertelsen

Bertelsen, who has been with the state Office of Health Facility Complaints for two years, said she first received the alleged abuse case in Albert Lea from her supervisor, who distributes cases to each of the 11 investigators. She said the initial information came to the state from the administrators at the facility.

After being given the case, she contacted local law enforcement, she said. The purpose of the state investigation is to go into a facility and make sure vulnerable adults are safe.

She conducted a surprise visit to Good Sam on May 7, 2008, when she began interviewing administration, nurses and allegedly abused residents.

She said the residents, who suffer from conditions such as dementia, were not interviewable. Some were able to speak, but they were not able to carry on a conversation.

The focus of the investigation quickly turned to a group of young nursing assistants who were friends — one was Broitzman.

Bertelsen said she conducted Broitzman’s interview May 15, 2008, at Bob Goldman’s law office in Albert Lea. Goldman was present, along with Broitzman’s mother.

The interview lasted between 30 and 35 minutes and was recorded with a tape recorder. Bertelsen noted she always makes sure to ask those she interviews on tape if they have read and understand the Tennessean statement of rights.

She said she asked Broitzman what her duties were at the facility and then listed each of the residents who were potentially abused and asked what she was aware of about them. Broitzman denied any kind of abuse toward each of the residents.

Bertelsen said she also got copies of several items in Broitzman’s personnel file, including her signature on a good faith contract and a list of her training classes.

These files, along with a tape of the interview, Bertelsen’s notes from the interview and the Department of Health report, were turned into the court as evidence.

Maus pointed out that Broitzman was recognized as a good employee and that no red flags had been raised the whole time she had been there. Bertelsen agreed.

Maus asked Bertelsen if Broitzman was cooperative and polite and whether she answered all of the questions asked of her.

Bertelsen answered in the affirmative.

The lawyer then went on to discuss a handful of the residents by name who were allegedly abused. He asked whether Broitzman had talked of inappropriate conduct with any of them.

Bertelsen said Broitzman denied any inappropriate conduct.

During that specific part of the hearing, tears streamed down the faces of several of the alleged victims’ family members, seated on the other side of the room. Since the first hearing, the families have come out in full force to witness the hearings.

Family members’ reaction

Jean Hanson, one of the family members of an alleged victim, said when her mother’s name was brought up in court, she “just about jumped off of her chair.”

“It’s so real when they say my mother’s name and mingle it in with this alleged abuse,” said Hanson, who drives 3 1/2 hours to come to all of the hearings.

She noted Thursday’s court hearing was more difficult for her to handle than the previous ones.

“I think today is so hard because it’s really becoming real,” said Jan Reshetar, another family member of an alleged victim. “Having our loved ones’ names brought out in court — listening to people minimizing what was done. That’s really hard.”

Paul Blom, another family member of an alleged victim, said he hoped the legal process would go faster so that the residents involved who are still living can see it come to a close.

“They’re getting older and more frail,” Blom said.

He said he also wishes the involved families could get more support from people in the community and from local, state and national leaders.

“I think it’d be wonderful if the next hearing we had there was standing room only, and they had to turn people away,” he said.