KANKAKEE — Criminal neglect charges were dismissed last week against former Good Shepherd Manor employees Elizabeth A. Cook and Heidi Jones in a June 2017 incident in which a resident left on a bus died from heat exhaustion.
On March 8, Judge Kathy Bradshaw-Elliott ruled in favor of the motion to dismiss filed by Cook’s attorney, Jonathan Feldman. Jones and her attorney, D’Anthony V. Thedford, joined the motion.
Cook and Jones took 13 residents from the Momence facility on a shopping trip on June 11, 2017.
Resident Charles McLaughlin was found dead inside the hot van parked outside Good Shepherd Manor after returning. He was left on the bus for two hours, according to a report. The temperature that day reached 93 degrees.
The 69-year-old McLaughlin was so profoundly developmentally disabled, he could barely talk. McLaughlin had been a resident at the group home since 1972.
Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner said heat exhaustion was the preliminary cause of death.
In a statement to the Daily Journal, Feldman said:
“We are very pleased with Judge Bradshaw-Elliott’s ruling last Friday dismissing the case. At this point, the state can return to the grand jury (for the third time) to re-indict the case, however, we hope that does not occur and call upon (Jim) Rowe’s office not to do so. As we have felt from the very beginning, not every tragedy is a crime.”
An email was sent to Thedford.
State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said they will research the constitutionality of the statute and consult with the Attorney General’s Office to determine how they will proceed.
“(The) court determined the legal standard is negligence, not recklessness,” he said. “That may raise constitutional issues about whether someone can be charged criminally for a negligent, as opposed to a reckless/purposeful act. We have an opportunity to re-indict both defendants through the grand jury, as the case was dismissed with leave to re-file.”
In Feldman’s motion, he argued “the charge, a minimum” must be alleged with sufficient particularity to enable a criminal defendant to prepare a proper defense.
“Since the offense charged is a general one, the pleading may not just rely on an iteration of of the statutory language; instead, the facts that amount to the alleged crime must be precisely alleged.”
A report released by the Illinois Department of Public Health in July 2017 faulted Good Shepherd Manor for McLaughlin’s death, saying the facility failed to follow its own procedures and in other cases, failed to have others in place that could have prevented the his death.
The report detailed several key mistakes, pointing to systemic failures that eventually led to McLaughlin’s death.