Miscarriage of Justice on Long Island

Miscarriage of Justice on Long Island

This was not the way I wanted to kick off my “author’s blog” on the website being developed to promote my writing. But recent events are, right now, all I can really write, or think, about. My best friend was, without any doubt in my mind, railroaded by our system of “justice,” and is now awaiting sentencing, including the very real possibility of prison time, for charges that were false, disproven, illogical and political. Please bear with me while I explain, and see if you would come to the same bewildering (or fishy) conclusion that the jury did.

Some of you may have heard of the recent trials involving the Medford Multicare Center for Living, a nursing home on Long Island. I know, the minute you saw the phrase “nursing home” the preconceptions began. Don’t forget that; that’s at the heart of this case. A patient, Aurelia Rios, died one night in October of 2012. The office of the New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, ultimately decided that there was criminal negligence involved in her passing… or saw this as an opportunity to close or take over a facility that has been on the State’s radar (and not without some legitimate reasons) for some time, while advancing his own political career. I mean, what more exploitable target for the personal ambitions of a State A.G. likely to seek higher office and an Assistant A.G. wanting to advance her career than a high profile trial against nursing home employees?

I mourn the passing of Ms. Rios, as I would anyone who suffered what, and in the way, she did. But sympathy does not imply criminality. Yet the message boards of the local paper, Newsday, and television station, News 12, were ablaze with hateful stereotypes, cries for vengeance and rushes to judgement before any facts were ascertained or the jury was even selected. And the slanted news coverage that followed only, I believe, sealed the fate of the four defendants long before the verdict was unsealed. So please bear with me as I go over the realities of the case, fact checked for irrefutability, with you, and thank you for your indulgence. I don’t know if it’s too late for justice to be served, but with your help I’m going to try.

The prosecutor’s case hinged on three presumptions: that alarms were ringing throughout the facility for two straight hours while the entire staff willfully failed to respond, that Ms. Rios was supposed to be connected to a ventilator and the failure to do so resulted in her death, and that after the death there was some kind of (non-conspiratorial) cover-up of the events. I want to take you through each of these allegations, unproven despite the convictions, but first I want to introduce you to the prosecution’s star witnesses who were instrumental in getting those convictions.

It seems pretty well established, in part by the D.A.’s staff’s own words, that they cast such a wide net in rounding up anyone they could in order to get some of them to turn on their coworkers and build for them what was a very weak case that they took a long time to develop and fumbled through even as the trial was proceeding. Unfortunately, in American “justice,” threat and bribery pay off. Prosecutors can drop charges against guilty people to elicit testimony to put away other, perhaps innocent people. Arguably the one whom they had the strongest case of negligence against was handed probation for giving obviously scripted testimony, complete with coaching from the prosecutor’s table. How did they get her to testify for “their side?” They held deportation and separation from her child, along with prosecution, over her head if she failed to do so. On the stand she admitted to having lied to not only the D.A.’s office and the Grand Jury, but to her employer and to the very jury that ultimately bought her newest version of events.

Their other “star” witness, an attention hound with a detailed history of real patient abuse and neglect (not unlike, but even worse than that of the first one), was granted immunity from any prosecution by the very Grand Jury that she then had to admit to having misled on the stand, where she now told brand new stories not only under immunity but seemingly under the influence. A third prosecution witness was the prosecution’s hero, the Respiratory Therapist who had turned the four women in, presumably out of fear that he himself would have otherwise been prosecuted for negligence for not having passed vital information about the doctor’s order on to the next shift’s therapist because, as he testified on the stand, he wasn’t being paid for the overtime minutes it would have taken. And their fourth accomplice gave damning testimony against a defendant who seemed otherwise completely in the clear, testimony built from details of words and actions in a meeting which, despite her claims, further testimony revealed that she hadn’t even attended. It’s a great system, ain’t it? The rest of the prosecution witnesses, with the exception of Ms. Rios’ family, were primarily alleged “experts” who had no actual familiarity with Ms. Rios’ or her condition, the operating procedures or equipment at the facility, and/or the actual events of that night.

So let’s get to the charges, starting with the alarms. Testimony, including that of prosecution witnesses, showed that there are various alarms that mean different things and therefore require differing responses, that the alarms are in fact not audible all over the facility and that they can also be silenced when called for, and that there was a documented history of often unaddressed equipment failure. But just from a logical standpoint, is it believable that loud alarms were blaring for two straight hours and these four women who were convicted, among a number of others, all of whom had cared for Ms. Rios during the hours, days and weeks prior to that time, would suddenly, independently, all decide to “willfully” (which means with full knowledge of the medical and legal consequences) ignore them and, essentially, allow the woman to die?

My friend was the floor supervisor that night. That’s the only reason, I believe, that she is in this horrible situation. It’s her job to exercise professional discretion, based on her years of experience. (That’s despite the testimony of the story-changing colleague who testified that every alarm needs to be run to, yet videotape showed that during over one hundred and forty alarms he only responded to two or three and never ran, not even once.  My friend, on the other hand, was seen running when the real emergency began.) She had a history with Ms. Rios, and knew that she had “behavioral issues,” meaning that she had a habit of disengaging her equipment, which causes audible or visual alarms. What my friend also knew was that because of this, along with Ms. Rios’ very poor health, she had a one-to-one aide in her room with her. There was also a nurse on the floor right by her room. And then there was that “star witness” on the monitor. My friend was convicted for criminal neglect for not running to her room at the sight of red lights (let alone the alleged two hour blaring of alarms) despite all of the safety measures and circumstances she was aware of. If there was a true emergency, she would have been personally summoned. Otherwise, she would continue to do her rounds, check records, maintain the med cart, help the staff and pass by various monitors but not have to study them. The “star witness” claimed to have summoned the defendants, but videotape showed her within feet of each of them throughout this entire episode not uttering a word. It also showed no unusual activity, which is because the prosecution’s claims that this is when Ms. Rios died turns out to be false. But think about it. Had she died when the prosecution claimed, how could these women have been prosecuted for failing to answer two hours of alarms after her death? Their story never made any sense, which is why they pulled a “reverse OJ” and overwhelmed the jury with so much stuff, videotapes and papers and purely theoretical testimony, that the jurors must have thought that there had to have been something in all of it.

So now we get to the ventilator issue. Allegedly Ms. Rios died because the facility failed to hook her up to the ventilator she was supposed to be on at night. Before we address the ventilator issue, we have to digest perhaps the most significant fact of the case. There was no autopsy. No one knows what Ms. Rios actually did die of. She had heart disease and a number of other serious health conditions. So since the prosecution has no actual cause of death and they got the time of death wrong, as we’ll see, how could they possibly prove that the defendants’ actions or inactions had any deleterious effect on Ms. Rios? But back to the ventilator. My friend had worked directly with Ms. Rios the week before. At that time the standing order was to help wean Ms. Rios from the vent and allow her to be on the “trach collar” “as tolerated,” which included part of the night. Supposedly there was a second doctor’s order that came later, requiring that she be attached to the ventilator at night. If in fact this order superseded the other one, which seemed fuzzy, then it was the job of the Respiratory Therapist, who was convicted separately the day before these four women, to make the staff aware of the new order and hook Ms. Rios up herself. That is not within the purview of the nurses. She herself should have been made aware of any such order by the prosecutor’s “hero,” but he said he didn’t want to be bothered. The press convicted the nurses of not hooking Ms. Rios up to the ventilator. That was not specifically one of the charges, although it almost certainly swayed the jury as to the negligence conviction.

Okay, now we get to the issue of time of death, which is a critical one. The prosecution claimed the data readings showed she had died at about one forty in the morning. This was when the defendants allegedly had to act to save Ms. Rios’ life and failed to. The other “star witness” even claimed to having seen Ms. Rios blue later on, to bolster the prosecution’s timeline, even though there was no reason she should have been in a position to see it, it would have been virtually impossible to detect from a distance given Ms. Rios’ skin color, she never mentioned it at the time or to the Grand Jury, and every other witness, including the EMS responder and Emergency Room doctor, contradicted this. But two hours later, two hours after her alleged passing and when she was supposedly already blue, her oxygen level went back up, and when the paramedics arrived, they, by all evidence, reestablished a heart beat. None of Ms. Rios’ personal doctors were called by the prosecution. What were they keeping from the jury? Instead, a celebrated coroner, Michael Baden, who testified in the O.J. case, and had no knowledge of this one, was called. Remember, at one forty, when the prosecution claimed Ms. Rios was in distress and died, there was a one-on-one in her room. Did she open the door and yell for help? That “star witness” claims that a picture of the one-on-one aide sleeping had been circulating. But the picture was never produced. It turns out that she had a personal grudge, against not only the aide she was spreading innuendos against, but against my friend, who had given the somewhat easier assignment of bedside care to the other aide and not to her.

Finally, we get to the alleged “cover-ups.” My friend was convicted of “falsifying business records in the first degree,” a felony. (Patient abuse is not a felony. Business comes first.) On what was she convicted? My friend was interviewed twice by the State investigator. After the first interview, my friend was not arrested. The investigator wrote her report, but apparently someone didn’t like how it turned out so she called with more questions. She asked whether anyone had reported to my friend that alarms had been blaring for two hours and my friend truthfully answered no. My friend was not asked whether she herself heard any such alarming, so she was indicted and convicted for not answering a question that wasn’t asked about something that didn’t happen. Her statements, unlike that of the prosecution witnesses, has remained true and consistent throughout. It should be further noted that the judge instructed the jury that in order to convict on this charge they not only had to find her guilty of willfully deceiving the investigator, but also had to find that the “intent to defraud included an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.” What other crime was ever brought into evidence? And that’s what she faces prison time over.

One of the biggest problems was that the judge, Judge Collins, required these four defendants, who had somewhat conflicting interests on some issues, to be tried together, despite the protests of their attorneys. Not only that, they were tried simultaneously with the seemingly more negligent Respiratory Therapist, in the same courtroom with a different jury. This was for convenience, to save time. Not only would that likely confuse any juror as to who was responsible for what, but it would make the four separate defendants, or even the five, appear to be a cohort. And since they were therefore seen by cameras and jurors having lunch together socially, the impression that they were conspiratorial and remorseless was quite possibly etched into minds that were so likely biased from the beginning.

So, I ask you. How did the jury, in a matter of hours, come back with seventeen convictions against four defendants after a long, complex trial with thousands of pages of evidence, and “beyond a reasonable doubt” no less? Am I crazy, or is there nothing but doubt, about every bit of the prosecution’s case and the verdict? Meanwhile, my friend is now without her nursing license, without income, without employability and without her good name, and just now she has lost her apartment, and very possibly will soon lose her freedom. She has four children, all with some degree of special needs, and an elderly, infirm father she takes care of. She has always been a highly respected nurse, loved by patients and staff alike. Given everything I have written, I ask that this be posted any and everywhere. We read about injustices happening all the time. But this one hit very close to home. I, she and justice need your help.


P.S. We just read in the paper that the one-on-one nurse who was actually in Ms. Rios’ room and was scheduled to go on trial next was granted a plea deal wherein she gets no jail time and is actually allowed, in an only somewhat limited capacity, to continue to practice nursing.  She was the one my friend, and Ms. Rios, had most relied on, and she gets to continue her life while my friend is homeless and awaits very likely incarceration. This system of “justice” is clearly an abomination.