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Elder Abuse & Abuse of Authority

When someone hurts our senior citizens, such wrongdoing isn't just an individual matter - it's a flagrant challenge to our whole community. And just as members of families and neighborhoods should look out for each other, so we also trust public servants to protect the most vulnerable among us, especially from the crime of elder abuse.

Recent cases of elder abuse, however, remind us that some bad actors can exploit their positions of authority for personal gain by operating under the cover of a badge. While most law enforcement officers are decent and honorable in the performance of their duties, now and then the relatively few cops who fail to live up to the oath they swore will make the news.

Two instances of abuse of authority in relation to seniors are currently in the headlines. First there is the story of Portsmouth, NH, resident Geraldine Webber, who died in 2012 at age 94. Previously diagnose with dementia, Webber changed her will to designate unrelated Portsmouth police officer Aaron Goodwin as the primary beneficiary of her $2.7 million estate. That case is now in litigation in probate court, with a Harvard medical expert calling out Goodwin's behavior as "undue influence."

In the Bay Area of our very own state of California, we have just seen the conviction and sentencing of 38-year-old former Pinole police officer Matthew Messier. Messier, who had been second-in-command in Pinole PD until 2012, pleaded guilty to lying about his bankruptcy, though he was under extensive investigation for elder abuse of 84-year-old Jean Jones, who passed away earlier this month. It was in March of 2012, says local prosecutor Connie Campbell, that Messier "tricked" Jones into naming her as the beneficiary of her will, along with assigning him power of attorney. To the end of her life, the now-deceased Jones was tormented by Messier's intimidation, according to her neighbors. Messier received a rather light sentence - 66 days in jail and five years' probation - mainly due to his plea bargain.

We should harbor no illusions about the potential for elder abuse within our society. It's the unfortunate truth that this crime is most often perpetrated by family members, but we also can't discount the fact that predators will misuse authority at the expense of our loved ones and neighbors. Let's all work to ensure that our communities' most vulnerable, from children to elders, are safe from exploitation.

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