GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A former Grand Rapids Home for Veterans employee has lost her job and faces a misdemeanor charge after allegedly abusing an 83-year-old veteran who suffered from dementia.
The incident happened March 27, 2016 and was caught on surveillance camera. The Grand Rapids Police Department says the video shows the veteran, who is confined to a wheelchair, pushed into a desk as others watch and appear to do nothing.
Police say Laurie Lyn Botbyl, 56, was the person who pushed the wheelchair.
Grand Rapids District Court records show she failed to make payments on a traffic ticket and was the subject of a bench warrant. Other than that, Botbyl, who now lives in Muskegon, had no other criminal record before Tuesday when the Kent County prosecutor issued charges of fourth-degree vulnerable adult abuse. That’s a misdemeanor with a maximum of a year in county jail. With Botbyl’s lack of criminal record, long incarceration would be unlikely.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency said Botbyl was an employee of J2S, a much-criticized private firm that provided caregiver services to the vets home until the end of last year, when its contact ran out and was not renewed.
The veteran’s home informed the company that Botbyl was not to return to the home and contacted Grand Rapids police.
A police spokesman said all of investigators’ information on the case, including the video, was turned over to the prosecutor’s office in April, but no charges were issued until this week after police resubmitted the evidence.
On Wednesday, 24 Hour News 8 filed Freedom of Information Act requests to the state and local agencies to get the video.
ADVOCATE: ‘WE’RE JUST NOT GETTING THERE’
The incident has prompted outrage from state legislators, including State Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids. She spearheaded efforts to improve conditions at the home following the release of a scathing audit early last year and hearings this summer. Gov. Rick Snyder and MVAA chief James Robert Redford — who took over after the audit was released — have called the allegations unacceptable.
But a local veteran’s advocate says words are cheap and action needs to be taken.
”My question is how many more of these instances are out there that need to come forward,” said Catherine Kooyers who has been working for years with veterans to show the abuse she said has been occurring at the home. “I’m outraged.”
For years, she was dismissed by officials at the home until last summer when state congressional hearings proved many of her allegations were grounded in reality.
Redford — a former Kent County judge and Navy veteran — has made sweeping changes and many promises.
“I’m telling you here today and I’ll tell every one of your viewers, if we believe there is a situation where one of the people we have the privilege of serving has been the victim of criminal activity, you bet we’re calling the law enforcement,” Redford said in May.
“I know everybody’s trying to do a good job, but we’re just not getting there,” Kooyers said Wednesday.
The alleged victim in this case was in the Alzheimer’s and dementia unit, which is isolated from the rest of the home. Its residents do not generally interact with the rest of the home.
“We don’t really have a good feel for who’s there and what’s happening to them,” Kooyers said.
She said getting rid of J2S was a good step in the right direction, there are still issues.
“(Employees) don’t speak up when they see something, they’re afraid to lose their position,” Kooyers said. “A lot of them are really good workers there, they’re not all bad — and that’s the part that breaks my heart because we get one bad worker like this one and it makes them all look bad.”
The woman accused of the abuse is free. She declined a request for an interview on Wednesday, saying her lawyer told her to keep quiet. It could be several weeks before she shows up in court to be formally charged.
Kooyers says anyone hurting vets needs to be punished.
“We need to set an example for the others,” she said. “We can’t keep letting them get away with it, the man was hurt, he’s 83 years old. That’s not OK.”