Hawkins couple accused in felony elder abuse case released on bond

Jeff Bobo • Jun 23, 2020 at 9:15 AM

ROGERSVILLE — According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), only one in 14 cases of elder abuse comes to the attention of authorities, but thanks to a request for a welfare check in Hawkins County, an elderly woman was rescued from filthy living conditions.

The 80-year-old woman's daughter and the daughter's boyfriend were arrested June 13 on one count of felony elder abuse and have since been released on $5,000 bond each while they await their preliminary hearing, set for June 29 in Hawkins County Sessions Court.

By law in Tennessee, everyone is a mandatory reporter, so if you think an older adult is being abused or neglected, you are required to tell someone.

One way to report elder abuse is to call the Tennessee Department of Human Services Adult Protective Services' toll-free number at 888-277-8366, but calling 911 is another good option.

Overpowering stench of feces and rotting food

On June 13, Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dustin Winter responded to a welfare check request on the victim, who resides in a trailer park at 215 Stanley Valley Road near Rogersville.

The victim's caretakers were identified as Banner Gale Skeen, 56, and Rebecca Jean Armstrong, 46, who also reside at that address. Police said the couple are boyfriend and girlfriend, and the victim is Armstrong's mother.

Winter described the exterior of the trailer as dilapidated with broken windows, and when he entered the residence he was met with an overpowering stench of feces and rotting food.

The victim, who was unable to walk well, was found sitting on a couch beside a bedpan chair surrounded by a swarm of flies.

Dog feces everywhere

Winter stated in his report there were large holes in the floor that led to the dirt ground beneath the trailer. He also said dog feces completely covered the floor in some places.

“The kitchen was piled up with dishes covered with rotting food,” Winter stated in his report. “I observed a thick layer of black mold on almost all of the surfaces of the kitchen, and it was all over the ceiling. The refrigerator didn't appear to be working and contained only rotting food.”

Winter noted that the bathtub was filled with trash and the toilet was overflowing with human feces. The victim's bedroom had only a mattress and a blanket on the floor that was covered with dog feces.

The victim reportedly stated that when her bed pan is full either Skeen or Armstrong throw it in the yard beside the trailer.

Skeen and Armstrong were each arraigned last week in Hawkins County Sessions Court on one count of abuse of an adult, a Class E felony punishable by 1-2 years if convicted.

10,300 elder abuse cases in Tennessee

In 2019, there were about 10,300 elder abuse cases investigated across Tennessee.

The NCEA defines elder abuse as "intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or 'trusted' individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder.

The TDHS also identifies several different types of elder abuse.

Warning signs of physical abuse

Bruising, especially in the torso or head; frequent injuries from accidents; broken eyeglasses or frames; caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors alone with the older person.

Warning signs of emotional abuse

Isolation of the older person or refusing to allow visits alone with the senior; observed threatening or belittling of the older person by the caregiver.

Warning signs of neglect

Unusual weight loss; malnutrition; dehydration; untreated physical problems; unsafe and unsanitary living conditions such as dirt, vermin, soiled clothes and bedding; inappropriate clothing for the weather; desertion or abandonment of the older person in a public place.

Warning signs of financial exploitation

Significant withdrawals from the vulnerable adult’s accounts; sudden changes in their financial circumstances; valuable items or cash missing from their home; increase in junk mail soliciting purchases or payments for sweepstakes money; neglect of the victim, such as no food in the home; and maintenance and repairs of the home are ignored.

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