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Elder Abuse & Undue Influence: Time for Accountability

Aaron Goodwin.jpg

Former Portsmouth Police Sergeant Aaron Goodwin. Photo: Portsmouth Patch

This week we witnessed a pivotal and encouraging development in a case of alleged elder abuse and undue influence in Portsmouth, NH. Portsmouth Police Sergeant Aaron Goodwin has made the news headlines for several months after he managed to inherit $2.7 in property and funds from the late Geraldine Webber, who died in December 2012 at age 94. Now the Portsmouth Police Department has announced that Goodwin has been fired as the result of an official inquiry into the matter.

Goodwin wasn't a relative of Webber's; rather, he "befriended" her in 2010 during a routine house call. The elderly Webber, who had previously been diagnosed with dementia, told numerous witnesses she was "in love" with Goodwin and wanted to leave him everything she owned. Rather than remove himself from the situation, however, Goodwin continued to visit Webber frequently, even taking her on trips to casinos. He then facilitated her wish to change her will, soliciting various lawyers until he found one who would agree to shift $2.7 million in estate assets from the city police and fire departments as well as designated charities over to himself. Actions in the context of Webber's case bear the red flags of undue influence, a common method of elder financial abuse. 

Ever since Webber's passing, her estate has been locked in probate litigation, with Goodwin's claims as the beneficiary under serious scrutiny. Among other details, a whistleblower from Portsmouth Police, John Connors, and concerned investigators from state adult protective services came forward to speak out against what they saw as a clear abuse of authority. But no one wanted to listen. Was it correct for Goodwin to use his official position to apparently leverage millions from a woman suffering dementia? The department finally decided that such behavior was unacceptable. Police chief Stephen Dubois commented:

This termination is only one of many changes that we have made and will continue to make as we seek to close what has been an unfortunate chapter in the otherwise proud history of the Portsmouth Police Department. We wish to thank the citizens of Portsmouth and the men and women of the Portsmouth Police Department for everyone's patience.

Goodwin was also found to have violated three regulations each of both the Portsmouth Police Duty Manual and the City's Code of Ethics when he helped Webber transfer her estate to him. We'll have to see what legal decisions get made further down the road, but this week's administrative action against Goodwin sends a clear, if belated, signal that misusing authority to perpetrate suspected elder abuse cannot be tolerated. Like veteran cop John Connors, the courageous whistleblower who helped bring the story to public light, you can stand up and speak out against elder abuse. Bad actors only get away with wrongdoing for so long - one way or another, they'll be held accountable.

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