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Elder abuse victims fight back

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Delores Taylor said she had noticed things missing from her home before. Small amounts of cash — then, eventually, larger amounts of money would disappear from her purse.

At first she only suspected her in-home-care provider was stealing from her. Then she became certain and confronted the man, who denied everything.

But when Taylor's jewelry disappeared and turned up at a local pawn shop, it was the last straw.

"He told me a pack of lies from the first day," Taylor, 75, said yesterday. "I knew he was on parole, but not for theft. If I had known that, I would never had let him into my home."

Clifford Shawn Griffin, 26, of Crescent City, was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for elder abuse.

It's a crime that has not had enough recognition in recent years, according to Deputy District Attorney Thomas French.

"This is my third or fourth case in the last couple months," French said. "From the seminar I just attended, we found that elder abuse is about 10 years behind the legal reforms that have been afforded to domestic abuse and child abuse."

Taylor said the problems with Griffin began immediately when he began working in her home last December, so it didn't take very long for her to suspect him.

"There was one time I had two $20 bills in my purse, and one was missing. I knew they were both in there. I asked him ‘Did you take one?' He said ‘no,' but I knew he did," Taylor said. "So I let him go into the house first and gave him a couple minutes."

Taylor said when she walked in, the $20 was laying in the middle of a chair cushion. "I think he got scared that time, but that wasn't the end of it," she said.

"I had to go back to Spokane (Wash.), and I was packing my suitcase," she said. "I handed him my jewelry and told him to put them in my satchel. When I got to Spokane, it wasn't in there. He pawned them the same day."

The jewelry — a sapphire diamond pendant and a diamond ring — were a present from Taylor's daughter for her 65th birthday. She estimated their value at several hundred dollars.

Taylor said the entire episode would have been avoided if California-mandated screening of in-home-care providers for the elderly.

According to court records, Griffin was convicted in 1996 for second-degree burglary and receiving stolen property, and in 1999 for first-degree burglary of an elderly victim.

"They do it in Washington, where I moved from. They got fed up with it up there," she said. "At least I still have my wits about me. I am worried about those people who can't defend themselves and are victimized."

The state-sponsored In Home Supportive Services (IHSS), where Taylor found Griffin on a list, does not screen its applicants. Clients are expected to screen potential care providers themselves.

Deanna Ellis, supervisor for Adult and Family Protective Services, which administers IHSS in Del Norte County, said she could not comment on the Taylor case, but she concurred the system is problematic.

"I see some problems with it, if, say, a person is 96 years old and suffers from some sort of dementia," said Ellis.

Ellis said recent state laws should address problems with IHSS screening, but added, "Things don't happen overnight."

Meanwhile, Taylor has placed lights in her windows so she can watch her yard. She said she's worried about Griffin's friends and wife. The court has issued a restraining order for the wife.

"I am very, very afraid of him, and she is making me nervous," Taylor said.

The pawn shop is still holding Taylor's jewelry, waiting for $70 to reclaim the merchandise. Manager David Ross, who would not speak specifically about this case, said people in his profession often get caught in the middle of these situations.

"I am required by law to report to police the items coming in, but I am also protected by law until I get my day in court," Ross said. "Quite often, some family member or a boyfriend or girlfriend brings something in. Someone will come by later and say it's theirs ... If the cops would apply the law of defrauding a pawnbroker, it would resolve a lot."

Taylor, who seemed content that her jewelry is safe at the shop until she can afford to reclaim it, said she didn't think anything would have been done if French hadn't pursued the case with vigor.

"I tell you, Tom French went in there (to court) and really fought," she said. On Thursday, French offered to pay the $70 for Taylor, but she refused.

"Thomas French never lost sight of the equity and the humanity of the case," said District Attorney Mike Riese. "This isn't about a $70 or a ring. It's about elder abuse. The type of person who preys on the elderly deserves a state prison commitment."

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