DA drops assault charge against ex-nurse’s aide
Over objections by the victim’s family, prosecutors Thursday moved to dismiss a case involving a former nurse’s aide accused of assaulting a disabled client at a local assisted-living facility.
In what Deputy District Attorney Bo Zeerip called his “most difficult” case, the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office dropped a felony charge of third-degree assault on an at-risk adult and a misdemeanor neglect charge against Errin Hubbard, 23, of Grand Junction.
Zeerip told the judge that doctors caring for Sharon Howard, 53, advised she not testify because of health concerns. Howard suffers from multiple sclerosis, related dementia and other issues.
“The defendant has denied any wrongdoing and has not made incriminating statements,” Zeerip wrote in a motion to dismiss. “Thus, the decision about whether to proceed with the prosecution of this case hinges on the ability and the propriety of requiring the victim to testify at trial.”
According to an arrest affidavit, a nurse’s aide at Larchwood Inns, 2845 N. 15th St., told officers she saw a pillow on the face of Howard on the evening of Aug. 20, 2009, but she did not know how the pillow got there.
The co-worker of Hubbard’s said she heard Hubbard yelling at the woman to shut up, and she later heard the patient’s voice muffled. Howard told police that Hubbard placed a white rag in her mouth before covering her face with a pillow and had done similar things in the past, the affidavit said.
Zeerip wrote in a motion that Howard repeatedly alleged that Hubbard on Aug. 20 had pushed a pillow over her face, causing pain and leaving her unable to breathe for a period of time.
“If we have a witness that says he or she saw Hubbard with her hands on a pillow, on the victim’s face, this is a totally different ball game,” Zeerip said during an interview after the hearing.
Zeerip’s motion notes that Sharon Howard has consistently reported that Hubbard was “rough” with her on many occasions.
The prosecution of Hubbard’s case was delayed while an investigator with the District Attorney’s office re-interviewed witnesses, a measure of caution after the death of Glenn Coyne, the arresting Grand Junction police officer in Hubbard’s case.
“I don’t recall any significant differences we found,” Zeerip said of Coyne’s work on the case and that of investigator Gil Stone.
Howard’s husband said he hasn’t moved his wife to another facility, because she has reported no other alleged physical abuse from staff, and he didn’t want to separate her from her friends.
With Thursday’s events, he said he is reconsidering.
“I have nothing but pure (expletive) rage,” Charlie Howard, 55, said after Thursday’s hearing. “This woman assaulted my wife.”
“They (attorneys) would have made (my wife) look like a babbling idiot and put her through this all over again,” he said. “She’ll remember a phone number from 40 years ago, but she might not be able to say what she had for lunch today.”
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987, Sharon Howard has lived in Larchwood Inns for the past six years, unable to feed herself or walk, according to her husband.
Hubbard’s case was dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning prosecutors can again bring charges through August 2012 if new evidence develops.
Charlie Howard said staff at Larchwood Inns have told his wife on several occasions not to talk with others about her alleged encounters with Hubbard.
Phone calls seeking comment Thursday afternoon from Larchwood Inns’ administration were not immediately returned.