Starving To Death In Fort Bragg
by Bruce McEwen, June 14, 2017
Lori Fiorentino was sentenced to three years in the California State Prison this morning, June 8th in Superior court by Judge Ann Moorman for the neglect of Arlene Potts who had by all indications been allowed to starve to death in her own filth under Ms. Fiorentino’s care, a paid position assigned to her by Mendocino County’s Adult Protective Services.
The judge also censured Adult Protective Services despite Deputy DA Kevin Davenport’s attempts to excuse the agency, and focus blame entirely on Ms. Fiorentino.
Judge Moorman said that the preliminary hearing, which had been submitted as a factual basis, was not all that helpful — the apartment on Cypress Street in Fort Bragg was jammed full of shopping carts from Safeway and Rite-Aid but apparently none of the food made it to Arlene Potts other than a few bottles of drinking water.
Judge Moorman said she didn’t want to get caught up in the gruesomeness of the scene, however this proved unavoidable, as Ms. Potts had been deceased for about a month and her corpse was covered in feces and urine. One report described her remains as “mummified.”
Deputy DA Davenport said, “Ms. Fiorentino had a duty to seek assistance in spite of the fact that Ms. Potts was difficult to deal with and had refused medical treatment after falling in an alley and breaking her hip. The body showed severe neglect, not only in the layers of dirty adult diapers, but in the form of bed sores, which showed there had been no attempt to change her position or her diapers; and that the defendant continued to use her [Arlene Potts’s] money after she was deceased.”
The People were not focusing on the financial aspect of the case, however, Davenport noted, “Probation doesn’t make any sense in this case. The defendant needs to be held accountable and the disturbing behavior deserves a harsh punishment. The fecal matter encrusted all over her body indicates this happened during Ms. Potts’ lifetime. And the behavior of the defendant after Arlene Potts died is also disturbing. As a caregiver, she wasn’t going to do anything for the person under her care while she was alive or after her death; she was hired as a care-giver, and she gave no care. As you can see from the courtroom, there was no one to care for Ms. Potts…”
There was no one in the courtroom besides the people directly involved.
Davenport: “I can anticipate what Defense is going to say: Alcohol and drugs will be blamed. Not only that but the victim will be blamed. Counsel will say that Ms. Potts was a difficult person to deal with; that Potts was given an option to either go into a facility or go home with a caregiver, and when she chose the latter, Adult Protective Services appointed the defendant, but never trained her. But all she had to do was pick up a phone. Then Spence [Ed note: not sure who “Spence” is.] will say that Ms. Potts wanted to die. But that doesn’t matter. None of that matters. She was only 66, with a broken hip. Maybe she was in despair. Perhaps she did want to die. But letting her die like that, that’s unacceptable. Not even animals do this to their dead or dying, and it’s appalling.”
Davenport paused for effect, then resumed in a softer tone: “In a case where you are hired to give help and the person you are hired to help says they want to die — in that case you are obliged to call for help. Even if she’d failed to call for help, but the decedent had been found clean and comfortable, then things would be different.”
Public Defender Frank McGowan: “The state of the body reflects that Ms. Potts had been deceased for some time but the only thing Ms. Fiorentino is guilty of is not seeking help and she most clearly is the type who is most eligible for probation, a law-abiding, productive citizen…”
Sorry, this reporter dropped his pencil — or was it my jaw — on the floor, at hearing the epitome of Sloth being called a productive citizen.
McGowan: “…with poor decision-making capabilities, according to Dr. [Kevin] Kelly, whose tendencies are to shut down when confronted with difficulties. We have here some gruesome pictures, but there is no malice. Also, Dr. Kelly was of the opinion that my client had not had the proper training and experience to deal with the situation she found herself in. Ms. Fiorentino only has a GED. Now, as to the first year or so, Ms. Fiorentino appears to have provided the care required of her, and if she’d have had the supervision this case screams for, we wouldn’t be here today.”
McGowan paused, perhaps to invoke an image of The Scream by Edvard Munch, then resumed.
“There were many, a great many, water bottles found around the body of Ms. Potts so my client was trying to keep her hydrated, at least… What this case comes down to is Ms. Fiorentino not reaching out for help. My client has a submissive personality and Ms. Potts is — was — a domineering person — loud and boisterous — and that compounded her [Fiorentino’s] difficulty in making the correct decision, to call for help; in fact, Dr. Kelly thinks she could now be suffering from PTSD!”
Really? She’s losing sleep? Bummer.
McGowan: “A lot of people failed Ms. Potts and are getting off scot-free, but my client — the one left holding the bag — is now looking at getting a stiff sentence and I would ask the court for probation as she’s a productive citizen — though she should never be a caregiver again, as she’s obviously not suited to that profession…”
Moorman: “Does “robation have anything to add?”
Probation Officer Timothy King: “No, judge.”
Moorman: “Well, frankly, I agree with everything you both have said — although not with either of your conclusions. Adult Protective Services has made an assignment that was not only wrong but egregiously wrong, and I’ll take a minute or two here to chastise that agency…”
Davenport: “But judge, they tried and…”
Moorman: “Yes, it seems like things went well for a year or two, then something went wrong. The lack of nutrition was evident in the wasting away of the extremities, and this occurred around the time Adult Protective Services stopped coming around, which resulted in Ms. Potts death. So Adult Protective Services is clearly at fault. But the buck doesn’t stop with them. The circumstances in which the body was found was untenable, the apartment cluttered mostly with Ms. Fiorentino’s things, and this state of disrepair was prior to Ms. Potts’ death — the feces, the urine, the sores, the lesions — and lemme just say that one of the most common and paramount concerns of a caregiver to elderly persons is preventing this — but this is not a situation that occurred in a day. The failure to draw attention to this appalling situation — which is the same before as after death — is attributable to neglect. And the reason no one was notified is she, the defendant, was extremely fearful of being found out. I agree there was no malice. So the core of the crime is neglect. No matter how untrained and unsupervised she may have been, that doesn’t justify allowing Ms. Potts to lay in her own waste and bed sores. The water bottles were within reach, and perhaps you’re right Mr. McGowan to state that was helpful, but it was not helpful enough. This is an archetypical case of what the statute was meant to address and Ms. Potts did not receive the help from Adult Protective Services she deserved. She may have been allowed to starve to death, but what is certain is that it was in an extraordinarily filthy condition, and she died in disgrace.”
The judge took a dramatic pause, then resumed.:
“Now, as to the probation report. I’m going to strike some of these. I know it’s easy to get carried away, and I think the Probation Officer got carried away in this case. This is not a Crime of Sophistication, so I’m going to strike that. Nor did the defendant Take Advantage of a Position of Trust — it’s a case of neglect, not malice. The victim was vulnerable, yes, but for the Probation Officer to say she was unable to defend herself doesn’t apply, because she wasn’t under attack. So I’ll strike that. Also, this is not a place to opine, so I’ll strike the comments as well. Now, Ms. Fiorentio, I am not going to place you on probation because whatever your lack of training, it was no excuse, nor was the difficulty of the decedent’s personality — she did not deserve to die in this manner, so I’m gonna sentence you to the mid-term of three years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.”
There were less than $1500 in fines and fees, and Lori Fiorentino was advised of her right to appeal.
Roston’s Not So Petty Thefts
Bobby Gerome Roston was bound over for trial one day and out on the street the next, although he’s on parole and had been running up charges on a stolen credit card. Due to the amount of money Roston plundered the magic money card for, less than $1000, it was not a felony, and the jail being overcrowded, Mr. Roston was cut loose.
The amount of money was so negligible that nobody outside this reporter will have any interest in it. But I took an interest because my SSI income is so minimal — the result of a life spent in underpaid newspaper reporting — that Bobby Roston, or any other thief, would have to take everything in my account for two months running before it would amount to a felony. That’s because my monthly SSI is less than $500 after Medicare takes out their $135 each month.
In other words, although I’m over 65, I’m condemned to work for the rest of my life and die in the harness as a salt mine hack because I chose such a loser occupation, one that offers no retirement, no insurance, no paid-vacation, no gold watch, perpetual insults and threats of great bodily harm, social shunning, and no complaints department to run interference. So if somebody ripped off my credit card, I’d take it pretty hard, even though the courts think it’s no big deal — especially galling were the comments made by defense attorney Jonathan Opet, who gave up newspaper reporting to become a lawyer. I asked him why.
“Well, Bruce, I looked around one day and saw that none of my colleagues could afford to start a family.”
Mr. Opet has since started a family with KZYX newsperson Valerie Kim, and the happy couple has a baby girl in their new home on Peachland Road, with lots of amenities and plenty of room for a pony. A thousand dollars would be an insignificant loss to him.
Yeah, yeah, I know. An orchestra of tiny violins is tuning up to play sad songs for me, but I had to get it off my rheumatic chest.
Kindall Kice, a young woman with a nameplate pinned to her tunic, the universal badge of the gainfully employed, took the stand to testify. Ms. Kice was nervous, and with good reason, for Mr. Opet was about to ruthlessly grill her in a way as to insinuate that she was a malicious racist too eager to accuse poor Bobby Roston of a crime based merely on the color of his skin, and all for a few measly dollars which she could easily afford to overlook.
Keep in mind that Jonathon Opet looks like a young Gregory Peck, and that the prosecutor, Deputy DA Barry Shapiro, looks like a young Cary Grant, and that young Ms. Kice was blushing like a contestant on The Bachelorette.
Prosecutor Shapiro: “Ms. Kice, do you have a credit card from Bank of America?”
Kice: “Well, I did have one.”
Shapiro: “When did it go missing?”
Kice: “On the 19th or 20th of May, I think.”
Shap[iro: “When did you last see it?”
Kice: “On the 19th.”
Shapiro: “And where was it?”
Kice: “In the console of my car.”
Shapiro: “What kind of a car do you drive?”
Kice: “A Cadillac CTS.”
Shapiro: “And you last saw it on the 19th?”
Kice: “Yes. The next day it was gone.”
Shapiro: “How did you know it was gone?’
Kice: “I got an email that said it had been used at Raley’s, the Shell station and the Truck Stop.”
This testimony confused Judge John Behnke and Ms. Kice had to pause and explain that her smart phone had an app that would let her know when and where her credit card was being used, an app which she used to monitor and manage her bank account.
The card had been used at Raley’s for two dollars and change, at Jensen’s Truck Stop for $82 and at the Ukiah Shell station for $18.61; Ms. Kice went outside and looked in her console, couldn’t find the credit card or her driver’s license, so she went to Jensen’s Truck Stop and asked the cashier to check his surveillance videos so she could see who was using her card. He showed it to her on his smart phone.
Again, because the technology had to be explained to the judge, I was able to understand as well.
Over the next few days other charges were attempted, but refused; such as one for over $300 at Romi’s restaurant, $130 on the internet, and $20-something at Walgreen’s. Then one day Ms. Kice’s driver’s license came in the mail, in an envelope with no return address.
Mr. Opet had done some research on Ms. Kice and found she had once been in trouble with the law. This is a common tactic with defense lawyers, a way to embarrass the complaining witness, a way to blame the victim, in order to get the client off scot-free, and make sure Ms. Kice will stay home and keep quiet next time someone steals from her. It’s why people hold lawyers in such low esteem.
Opet on cross: “So Ms. Kice, have you ever been convicted of a felony?”
Kice: “Yes. But it’s been expunged.”
Opet: “Objection, non-responsive — move to strike that last part.”
Judge Behnke: “I’ll allow the answer to stand; but Ms. Kice, just answer each of the questions as briefly as you can and wait for the next one.”
Opet: “So you went to the truck stop to view the video footage — was anyone with you?”
Kice: “My son was.”
Opet: “Well, did you get the cashier’s name?”
Kice: “No, I didn’t think to ask it.”
Opet: “Ah, then you don’t know, do you?”
Kice: “No, I don’t know his name.”
Oet: “Do you even know what kind of cell phone the cashier used?”
Kice: “No, it didn’t occur to me to check and see what kind it was.”
Opet: “Do you at least remember what was depicted?’
Kice: “What do you mean ‘depicted’?”
Opet: “What did it show?”
Kice: “It showed this guy with a red and black hat and a beard using my credit card and signing my name.”
Opet: “Do you remember anything else about the individual you saw in the video?”
Kice: “He was dark.”
Opet: “Are you trying to say he was an African American — is that what you’re saying?”
Kice: “I don’t know. He could have been Native American or Mexican American or whatever.”
Opet: “But you couldn’t see on that small of a screen that the card this individual was using was actually your card, could you?”
Kice: “No, but… the time stamp on the video matched the time on the receipt.”
Opet: “But how can you be sure it was your card?”
Kice: “I don’t want to be rude but it’s common sense.”
Opet: “Objection — non-responsive.”
Behnke: “Common sense is allowed in court, Ms. Kice, [in very rare instances] but in the present case, just answer the questions as directly as you can [otherwise the snares lawyers are trained to set will be rendered useless].”
Opet: “Then a few days later you saw this same person walking on North Bush Street?”
Opet: “You were in a vehicle?”
Kice: “Yes, at the stop light, and he walked right in front of me.”
Opet: “Were you planning to turn?”
Kice: “Yes, but I changed my mind and decided to turn the way he went instead.”
Opet: “What did you do when the light changed?”
Kice: “I drove past him and stopped to call the police.”
Opet: “This was the person you thought was on the cell phone video you saw at the truck stop?”
Opet: “Because he was African American with a beard. Did he have on the red and black hat?”
Kice: “No, he had on the camo hat he bought at the Shell station on my credit card.”
Opet: “Was it digital camouflage, or was it Mossy Oak camouflage, or was it woodland camouflage, or was it tiger-stripe camouflage?”
Kice: “I don’t know all these details, but when I went to the Shell station they matched the time stamp on my credit card and said the guy bought a camo hat and sunglasses — and they showed me the hat, and it was the one he was wearing.”
Opet: “Did the people at the Shell station describe him to you?”
Kice: “They just said a black guy with a white guy.”
Opet: “Who bought the hat?”
Kice: “The black guy.”
Deputy Samuel Camarena testified that he responded to Ms. Kice’s call and soon found Bobby Roston on the street. Mr. Roston was cooperative and admitted to using the card, which had been given him by a guy named “Kyle.”
In closing Mr. Opet said he thought there was a problem with Ms. Kice’s identification of his client as the person who used her credit card. When Judge Behnke pointed out that his client told the deputy that he’d used it, Opet said it didn’t make sense because other charges were attempted after Deputy Camareno arrested his client, and that the driver’s license was mailed back a week later.
Judge Behnke said, “It seems pretty clear to me that someone in addition to your client was using, or attempting to use, the card.”
Opet: “Well, given the amounts involved, this should only be a misdemeanor.”
Shapiro: “Defense is right it was only a paltry amount but the defendant was on parole with a strike prior.”
Behnke: “The evidence is sufficient for a holding order, in fact the evidence is overwhelming that he used someone else’s card without permission, and due to the evidence the DA has on the priors, the 17b motion is denied, and he’ll be held to answer.”
I could have sworn I saw Bobby Roston walk by the Forest Club the next day with his buddy “Kyle.”