10/29/09 — Cherry worker acquitted on abuse charges

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Cherry worker acquitted on abuse charges

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on October 29, 2009 1:46 PM

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Sheila Y. Lane speaks on the witness stand Wednesday. Lane was found not guilty of the charge of assault on a handicapped person in 2008 at Cherry Hospital.

After one final review of surveillance video, a jury took less than five minutes to acquit a Cherry Hospital worker of an assault charge at trial on Wednesday in Wayne County Superior Court.

Sheila Yvetta Lane, 38, of Royal Drive in Dudley, had been charged with one count of misdemeanor assault on a handicapped person for a Nov. 17, 2008, incident. A patient fell to the floor after Ms. Lane removed her from an elevator.

She was cleared of the charge on Wednesday afternoon, and can return to her job at Cherry Hospital, where she had already been reinstated after an internal review, according to court testimony.

The incident on Nov. 17 began when the patient heard an intercom announcement that it was mealtime, according to testimony.

The patient had been put on what is called "meals on ward" at Cherry, meaning that her behavior had prevented her from gathering with others to eat in a common dining area.

The "meals on ward" designation meant that the patient should not have entered the elevator, which other patients were entering at mealtime. Ms. Lane removed her from the elevator, surveillance video showed.

The patient had a designation that ordered the Cherry workers, known as "health technicians," to watch her for random falls, according to testimony.

A number of other members of Cherry Hospital staff stood by and did nothing as they watched the incident.

However, one other worker, inside the elevator, might have tried to remove the patient's hands from a guardrail inside the carriage, according to Ms. Lane's testimony. The inside of the elevator could not be seen in the surveillance video.

The manner of the patient's removal from the elevator carriage was the issue at trial -- whether Ms. Lane had crossed the line from a legal "therapeutic hold," to an assault on the patient.

Ms. Lane's defense attorney, Worth Haithcock, maintained that Ms. Lane was only acting for the safety of other patients after the female patient refused to exit the elevator.

The prosecution, Assistant N.C. Attorney General Doug Thoren, argued that Ms. Lane may have started with a therapeutic hold, but ended the confrontation by pushing the patient to the floor.

"It was on video, it was on record, and you've seen it," Thoren told the jury in his closing arguments. "When she takes that left hand up, and puts it on her, and pushes her to the ground -- that's where your focus should be."

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones oversaw the trial.

After being given its instructions, the jury returned once to review the video. Then, they returned a verdict of not guilty in under five minutes.

Haithcock, the defense attorney, said he felt vindicated, and said he believed Ms. Lane's case was an example of overzealous prosecution.

"This case should have never been brought," Haithcock said. "The state, they cast a wide net, a broad net to catch some offenders in these health institutions. Our jury won the day, however, and I'm just grateful for the outcome that we did have."

Ms. Lane's case follows a series of incidents at Cherry Hospital.

In November 2008, three people were fired and 10 others were disciplined after the death of Steven Sabock, who had been left unattended for nearly 24 hours, as Cherry workers played cards and watched television.

Later, two former Cherry workers accused of beating a patient were convicted first in Wayne County District Court, in November 2008. Later, after demanding a jury trial in Wayne County Superior Court, defendants Taniko Dominique Upton, then 33, and William Ken-neth Johnson, then 52, were again found guilty. The pair had been fired from Cherry in the summer of 2008 as a result of the incident.

Then in August 2009, Cherry worker Perry J. Butler pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a male patient at the hospital, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

He had originally been charged on Dec. 1, 2008, with having sex with a male patient and jailed under a $12,000 bond, records showed.

Butler also was one of the employees held under a temporary suspension at the hospital after the death of Sabock, authorities have said.