ALBERT LEA, Minn. – Allegations that two young assistants groped, spanked and spat on several nursing home residents suffering from dementia have shaken members of this southern Minnesota community, including the lead prosecutor in the case.
Brianna Marie Broitzman and Ashton Michelle Larson, both 19, appeared in court Wednesday to face multiple charges over the alleged abuse at Good Samaritan Society. The young women did not enter pleas, and both were released on bail.
"I think that they are very serious charges," Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson said after the hearing. "We're dealing with people who are vulnerable adults. People who are clearly ... in need of our care and our concern and our monitoring. They depend on us for everything."
Nelson added: "I, as a member of this community, certainly can feel it in my bones."
Four younger aides were also charged earlier, with one pleading guilty and the others facing trials in Juvenile Court.
A criminal complaint alleges the abuse occurred over several months in early 2008. The complaint says in one case, Broitzman and Larson allegedly poked a woman in the breasts and laughed when she told them to stop.
The Associated Press does not routinely identify victims of sexual abuse.
The complaint said Larson admitted lying on a bed with another patient, hugging her, kissing her forehead and telling her she loved her. Witnesses said Larson also groped the woman in bed and played with the woman's wig to make her angry, the complaint said.
The allegations surfaced when a teenage nursing assistant told an administrator about alleged abuse during an exit interview, prosecutors said. Follow-up interviews by state investigators and police found that Broitzman and Larson "would talk and laugh about the incidents" with others, including young co-workers who were sometimes witnesses, according to the complaint.
Broitzman and Larson, who no longer work at the home, considered the abuse "something fun to do at work," the complaint said. The two were confident they wouldn't get caught because "residents did not have their minds," a co-worker told investigators.
Many of the patients suffered from Alzheimer's disease and other dementia.
Broitzman's attorney, Lawrence Maus, said in court: "Obviously she wants to challenge this complaint." Larson's attorney, Evan Larson, is also challenging the allegations against his client.
Both women, who were arraigned in separate, but similar hearings, left the courthouse without comment. Both attorneys declined to comment beyond what was said in court.
The case became public in August, when the Minnesota Department of Health released a detailed report, alleging that 15 patients at the home were subjected to abuse. Prosecutors brought charges involving seven of the 15.