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Stonewalling in Suspected Elder Abuse?

More revelations continue to pour forth from the Geraldine Webber elder abuse investigation/probate case in Portsmouth, NH. Webber, who died in December of 2012 at age 94, left behind a $2.7 million estate to Portsmouth Police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin, who "befriended" the elderly woman two years prior during a routine patrol of her neighborhood. The trouble is, Webber had already been diagnosed with dementia by their time of her acquaintance with Goodwin. Yet Goodwin proceeded to visit her intensively, even taking her on casino outings, as well "shopping around" through several lawyers to change her will and trust with himself as the new beneficiary in May 2012. Seven months later Webber passed away, and Goodwin inherited her fortune.

With the legitimacy of Goodwin's beneficiary status in serious dispute in local probate court, we now have accounts of suspicious behavior as reported by Deborah Gendron, an employee of the state's Bureau of Elderly and adult services. In the spring of 2012 Gendron was sent to investigate Goodwin's possible undue influence over Webber; she and her colleagues ended up closing the case, concluding that allegations of elder abuse were "unfounded." However, Gendron's fellow investigator Bruce Angus, who completed the investigation, remarked:

Unfounded is not synonymous with untrue... Unfounded basically means that based on the information available at the time we are unable to substantiate.

Yet there were several factors in the case that point to both possible wrongdoing and institutional collusion. Gendron, for example, noted that during an interview Webber even told her she was "leaving Aaron the house and money" and that Goodwin had "said don't tell people." The investigators asked former Portsmouth police chief Lou Ferland for a copy of the department's official code of ethics, to which he denied them access. Ferland explained how he thought the investigators might misinterpret its meaning. Gendron also left a phone message for Goodwin to set up an interview, but never received a response. Her partner Angus did speak with the police sergeant, but the discussion seems to have been vague, and it was wiped from electronic records six months after it took place. Eventually Gendron gave up the inquiry due to worries over her work position and safety:

Sometimes she needs to call for help from Portsmouth police, related to her social work, and she worried that, because Goodwin is a local officer, "If I needed help, would the police be there?"

Add these circumstances up, and there's a heavy suspicion that Goodwin was exercising undue influence on Webber with cover from the police department. Public institutions like law enforcement are meant to protect our most vulnerable citizens, not engage in stonewalling. If any of us should ever encounter a similar situation, let's make a point to stand up and speak out - there's no excuse for an injustice like elder abuse.

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