05/28/09 — Testimony begins in Cherry workers' trial

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Testimony begins in Cherry workers' trial

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on May 28, 2009 1:46 PM

Taniko Dominique Upton

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William Kenneth Johnson

An argument over cigarettes led to an alleged beating of a handicapped patient at Cherry Hospital in August of last year, witnesses testified.

Two former Cherry employees charged with misdemeanor assault in the incident are on trial this week in Wayne County Superior Court after demanding a trial by jury.

On Wednesday, prosecutors began to lay out their case against William Kenneth "Kenny" Johnson, 52, and Taniko Dominique Upton, 33, who are accused of beating patient Nelson Glover.

The first witness to testify was Whitney Hodgin, one of two former Cherry nurses who were present at the scene of the alleged incident.

Miss Hodgin and Crystal Jones were nurses at the hospital, hired through a staffing agency.

Both Miss Hodgin and Miss Jones testified that Upton and Johnson kicked and punched Glover, at one point causing him to fall to the ground.

Assistant District Attorney Doug Thorne told the jury in his opening statement that Cherry had installed video cameras "everywhere." But one place they didn't install them were the breezeways on the top floor, where staffers and patients alike take breaks to smoke.

The breezeways are little larger than a jury box, enclosed with waffle-bricked open-air enclosures. The breezeways are at the ends of the building's U-shaped corridors, accessible by stairwell and doorway from the inner hospital floor, according to testimony.

Miss Hodgin testified that on Aug. 18, 2008, she had taken a group of four female patients under her care into the breezeway of the U3 Treatment Mall at Cherry. They were soon joined by more patients, including a group led by Upton, she said.

One of Miss Hodgin's female patients asked Glover for a cigarette and he refused, she said. Glover then took the stand and said the argument escalated from there. He testified that he had challenged the female patient to a fight.

Before any blows were thrown, all of the other patients left the breezeway. Miss Hodgin and Miss Jones testified that Upton did not allow Glover to leave.

From there, accounts of what happened differ.

Miss Hodgin testified that Upton was the first to touch Glover. Miss Jones testified that Johnson held Glover to allow Upton to hit him but she also said that her view was partially blocked by the people involved.

Both health care workers, who no longer work at the hospital, testified that Glover was both kicked and punched, and fell to the ground after the beating.

But neither of the two nurses reported the incident immediately, and a videotape of the hallway that leads to the breezeway, which was shown in court, showed both Miss Jones and Miss Hodgin sitting in chairs after the incident.

Another Cherry worker, therapeutic recreation specialist Anna Stancil, testified that she did not notice anything out of the ordinary when the defendants, the alleged victim and the two nurses re-entered the building.

She said she heard a commotion outside, but said that was not uncommon when working with mental patients. Miss Stancil also testified she assumed that a proper restraint of the patient had taken place after an altercation.

Although the incident was not reported immediately, it did not go unreported for long. Miss Hodgin said she called her staffing agency to report the incident when she returned home from work that evening.

Miss Hodgin said that Upton "egged on" the victim, saying something similar to "Go ahead and fight her. See what happens if you fight her."

She testified the reason she sat at her post after the incident was that she was "in shock," and scared that she might also be beaten if she said anything.

"I had just witnessed them beat up somebody else. I didn't know if I would be next," Miss Hodgin said.

After reporting the incident, Miss Hodgin said she did not show up for work the next day.

Miss Jones did. She told a Cherry police officer investigating the incident that she "hadn't seen anything."

That led to a warning from her staffing agency, telling her she would be arrested if she returned to work.

Miss Jones said she assumed the threat of arrest was "because I was lying," to Cherry Hospital police.

She later recanted her story that nothing had happened on the breezeway, and now no longer works for Cherry. She said she chose not to return to the hospital.

Miss Hodgin stayed on with the hospital, but was later terminated for excessive tardiness. She testified that witnessing the beating caused her to sleep poorly, leading to her chronic late arrivals to work.

The trial was expected to resume at 9 a.m. today.