The WZZM 13 Watchdog team found the key evidence in the case against nearly a dozen nurse aides at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans was not saved by state auditors because it wasn't "technically possible" for auditors to obtain the surveillance video when it was captured in 2015.
Charges were dismissed by a judge against eight of the workers late last week. There are still questions whether the three remaining employees who are charged will have their charges dropped as well.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced in July he was criminally charging the former contract workers with falsifying medical records.
Schuette's decision to move forward was based, largely, on the investigation done by the Michigan Office of the Auditor General (OAG). The OAG's investigation found workers were signing off on member location sheets they had done welfare checks on veterans inside the Home for Veterans but video observed at the time of the auditor general's investigation found the workers didn't do the checks at all.
Attorney General Schuette told us in July he thought there was enough evidence in the case to support moving forward.
"There was a huge problem in terms of falsifying records," Schuette said. "Some admitted it. Others denied it. But the video surveillance showed the truth and the fact is there was a failure to do the job."
This summer, multiple sources close to the situation, not connected with the employees, reached out to our investigative team to express concerns about the filing of the charges against low-level workers inside the facility. They pointed out to us they didn't believe the documents being used as evidence against the workers were actually "medical records".
We were also told the video the auditor general's office reviewed was not saved.
That was confirmed by an attorney for one of the defendants, Frank Stanley.
"There's none and (the video's) gone," Stanley said. "(An attorney) can't build a defense if you don't know what the evidence is and they didn't even have other evidence."
We contacted leaders at the auditor general's office to find out why the video was never obtained. A spokesperson for the office, Kelly Miller, indicated to us the cameras at the Home for Veterans were newly installed at the time of their investigation.
"We had open access to it but we just couldn't technically make it possible to obtain the videos so we viewed them at the location there," Miller said. "We did document (what we saw) and viewed it with someone else from the Home for Veterans."
We turned to other state departments to find out what the retention time period is for surveillance video.
"There is not a statewide retention schedule for security footage," Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) spokesman Caleb Buhs wrote in an e-mail. "We have one at DTMB for facilities that we manage, but that doesn’t include the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans."
Department of Military and Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Suzanne Thelen indicated to the 13 Watchdog team that the Home for Veterans policy keeps video for 45 days before it is overwritten.
"At the time the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans (GRHV) was working with the OAG's office, criminal action was not discussed and therefore the Grand Rapids Police Department was not asked for support to save the video," Thelen wrote in a statement. "The OAG technology expert worked on-site at the GRHV with home staff and the vendor to download video and were unsuccessful. The video was not preserved before being overwritten."
There's criticism coming in that Schuette pressed on with a prosecution of these workers knowing the video was not available and there were questions whether the documents that were falsified were really medical records.
"In my opinion there has to be a political component of the prosecution," Stanley said. "To charge these people with felonies under these circumstances is almost egregious. They should have never been charged at all."
Democrats and others in politics pounced on the dismissal of charges suggesting Schuette charged the workers to advance his political career as a gubernatorial candidate.
"Bill Schuette will do what Bill Schuette does," Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon said. "Whether it's these workers at the Vets home, low-level scapegoats, whatever cases he's pursuing to help his run for governor, that's how Bill Schuette is going to operate."
Schuette's spokesperson Andrea Bitely told us last week: "We are aware of the judge's decision and are reviewing our options for the next steps."
Bitely told us this week Schuette authorized the charges because he believed, despite some obstacles, there was enough evidence to be able to prove a crime was committed. Some have suggested that properly doing the checks would have provided the kind of care the veterans deserved and may have prevented potential falls or accidents.
Schuette told us in July his decision to charge the workers had nothing to do with politics.
"This is a message to our veterans that they are deserving of dignity, honor and respect and when that requirement falls short there's going to be criminal charges," Schuette said.
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