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Crimes Against the Elderly Come with Tougher Penalties

The 2021 elder abuse law means a Wisconsin nurse is facing tougher penalties for allegedly cutting off the foot of an elderly man at a rehabilitation center.

In November 2022, Mary K. Brown of Durand was charged with two felony counts of elder abuse for supposedly amputating a 62-year-old man’s frostbitten foot on May 27. He had been at the Spring Valley Health and Rehab Center since March after falling in his home. He had no heat in his home, causing the tissue in his feed to become necrotic.

The man died shortly after the amputation, but the criminal complaint did not connect the amputation to his death. He was receiving care at the facility from St. Croix County hospice health workers. Brown worked at the Spring Valley facility but was not a hospice nurse.

Preserving the Foot at Family’s Taxidermy Shop

According to fellow co-workers, Brown said she planned to take the foot to her family’s taxidermy shop for preservation. Two nursing assistants were reportedly with her when they entered the room to change his bandages. Instead, Brown cut the tendon that was keeping the foot attached. She acknowledged that she had no authorization to amputate and that removing the foot was outside her scope of practice.

Victim’s Age Increases Possible Prison Sentence

Brown is looking at the possibility of up to a $100,000 fine and/or up to 40 years in prison for each count of the underlying crime. Because the victim was 60 years or older, each charge carries the possibility of an additional 6 years.

Gov. Tony Evers signed the elder abuse law in August 2021.

“Aging and older Wisconsinites are particularly vulnerable to financial and physical abuse and exploitation, and unfortunately, we are seeing a devastating and concerning rise in these crimes,” the governor said at the time. “This bill is an important bipartisan action to help put an end to elder abuse and protect some of our most vulnerable loved ones and neighbors.”

The bill defines “elder person” as anyone 60 years of age or older.

When the victim meets the definition of an elder person, and the crime is punishable by incarceration, the following sentence increases are possible:

  • A maximum term of imprisonment of one year or less may be increased to not more than 2 years.
  • A maximum term of imprisonment of more than one year but not more than 10 years may be increased by not more than 4 years.
  • A maximum term of imprisonment of more than 10 years may be increased by not more than 6 years.

The enhanced sentencing is valid regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator knows the victim’s age.

The new law also creates the new crime of “physical abuse of an elder person.” Intentionally causing bodily harm or recklessly causing bodily harm are felonies. In the case of the nurse, she is being charged with intentionally causing great bodily harm to an elder person, which is a Class C felony.

Elder Abuse Is on the Rise

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, there were 6,295 incidents of elder abuse in 2013. That number climbed to more than 10,000 in 2021. Physical abuse experienced an increase of 185% during that timeframe. Unreasonable confinement or restraint surged 100%, followed by financial exploitation at 97.6%. The Elder Abuse and Neglect Report for 2021 showed that 16 incidents involved treatment without consent.

Fight the Stigma and Penalties of Elder Abuse Allegations

Being accused of harming an elder taints one’s reputation and can forever change the trajectory of your relationships and career. Do not assume that everything will work out in your favor. At the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella, our attorney brings his insight as defense counsel and a former prosecutor to fight for his client’s freedom.

Strong criminal defense requires tenacity, experience, and knowledge. Contact Attorney Cherella if you are being investigated for a crime. Our firm is available 24/7 to fight for your rights. Call (414) 882-8382 for a phone, video, or in-person consultation.