If a prosecutor can prove a vulnerable adult or senior citizen suffered any injury at the hands of a caregiver, lawmakers in Michigan want to be able to charge that person with a felony crime.
At the moment, the law only allows a felony if a person "causes serious physical harm or serious mental harm to a vulnerable adult".
Legislation introduced in Michigan's House of Representatives would toughen the penalties for somebody who "assaults another person that he or she knows or reasonably should know is an elder adult or vulnerable adult" which "causes physical injury, pain, or mental suffering" to them.
That person would be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $5,000.
The issue is an important one after former Grand Rapids Home for Veterans caregiver Laurie Botbyl was convicted of a misdemeanor last month in Kent County court. Under this new proposed statute, prosecutors could have potentially sought a felony charge against her.
Video first obtained by the 13 Watchdog team late last year shows a skirmish as Botbyl attempted to get 83-year old veteran Maynard Mathers, under control while he sat in a wheelchair inside the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. Seconds later, Botbyl placed both of her hands on the chair's handles, pulled the chair in tight and pushed Mathers' wheelchair forward out of her control. Mathers knees and right arm hit a desk and he's seen on the video grasping his knees after the incident.
In January, Kent County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Becker indicated his office did not have crucial medical evidence to move the case forward in early 2016 and orginally denied charges against Botbyl.
But the case was re-opened after our investigative team obtained medical evidence indicating Mathers had multiple injuries including a "skin tear" on his leg when he was pushed into the desk in his wheelchair. The evidence we obtained prompted Becker to take a second look at the case which led to the criminal charge being filed against Botbyl.
Lawmakers say they never want to see that incident happen and want to protect senior citizens across the board.
"This is the (legislature) trying to protect seniors as a vulnerable group in our state," Rep. Diana Farrington (R-Utica) said.
Rep. Farrington sponsored the bill as part of a larger six-bill package intending to help protect senior citizens.
This particular bill (HB 5028) addressing vulnerable adult abuse seems to have bipartisan support already.
"There should most certainly be serious penalties for harming an elderly adult or a vulnerable adult," Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said. "If it helps prevent the kinds of tragic abuse and neglect people suffered at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, I will gladly vote for it."
Botbyl is scheduled to be sentenced for the crime on October 9.