PAO’s Elder Abuse Prosecutors Receive National Recognition. In 2001, the PAO launched its Elder Abuse Project by assigning a DPA to focus exclusively in the prosecution of defendants who target the elderly.
PAO’s Elder Abuse Prosecutors Receive National Recognition
The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life—the children; those who are in the twilight of life—the aged; and those in the shadows of life—the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.
--Hubert H. Humphrey
In 2001, the PAO launched its Elder Abuse Project by assigning a DPA to focus exclusively in the prosecution of defendants who target the elderly. By 2010, the work expanded to include two senior attorneys. Senior DPA Page Ulrey was the first prosecutor assigned to prosecute elder abuse and Senior DPA Kristin Richardson joined her this year, taking over for Senior DPA Kathy Van Olst who now manages the office’s Special Assault Unit located at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center.
A 13-year veteran of elder abuse prosecution, Page Ulrey is considered a national expert on elder abuse. She trains other prosecutors across the nation on how to investigate and prosecute elder crimes. She has also published several articles on elder abuse and our justice system. Ulrey also oversees the elder abuse council, the state-wide elder abuse conference and the care facility/law enforcement task force. She helped create the criminal mistreatment review panel, elder fatality review team and the financial abuse team. Kristin Richardson has been a prosecutor for 25 years and a member of the PAO’s homicide unit for over 13 years. Richardson has been an adjunct professor at the Seattle University School of Law and an instructor for the National District Attorneys Association. Both have dedicated their careers to the most vulnerable victims in our society.
The number of people age 65 and older will double from 40 million in the year 2000 to 88 million in the year 2030. Along with it comes an increase in their abuse and exploitation. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/National Center on Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.” It typically includes physical abuse, financial exploitation, neglect and abandonment.
One example of the work that the elder abuse unit does is the case brought against Lisa O’Neill. O’Neill met Leonard Swenson in August 2006 after his wife of 34 years suddenly died and he had received a modest insurance settlement. Leonard was developmentally disabled, had a stroke, and his wife had always taken care of their finances. After O’Neill met Leonard, she had him moved into her basement within three weeks and took over his finances shortly thereafter. O’Neill defaulted on his mortgage payments, car payments, and siphoned his bank account. She isolated him from his family and terrorized him with physical and emotional abuse. The elder abuse prosecutors were able to convict O’Neill of 14 counts of felony theft and send her to prison for 62 months. Elder financial exploitation cases are often complex, involving such issues as cognitive capacity, consent, competency, powers of attorney, guardianships, undue influence and dementia. Few law enforcement officers receive training on any of these subjects. Having specialists in the PAO ensures that our community is ready to respond to this complex and increasingly common crime.
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