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Police chief arrested in elder abuse case

Posted: March 28, 2012 - 6:53pm

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — A police chief in a small northeastern Arkansas community was arrested Tuesday on allegations that he failed to report the alleged abuse of an elderly man who died.

Robert Yerbey, the chief in Joiner, faces charges of abuse of an endangered or impaired person and failure to report abuse or neglect in the case of 77-year-old Wilton Goudeaux Jr. Three others, including Goudeaux’s son, were arrested in connection with his death last month.

Yerbey and his attorney, Bill Bracey, did not return phone messages for comment Tuesday. Police say Yerbey, 56, was released Wednesday morning after posting $200,000 bail.

Court documents indicate Yerbey went to Goudeaux’s home Jan. 31 to investigate an alleged domestic dispute. The records say Yerbey reported Goudeaux was fine and had just walked out of the shower.

A Department of Human Services investigator arrived four hours after Yerbey’s report, according to court documents, and discovered Goudeaux unresponsive, breathing hard and unable to open his eyes or talk.

Goudeaux was transported to a hospital in Osceola where, according to court documents, Dr. Sherita Willis told police the man was “extremely dirty, filthy and appeared to be malnourished.” Willis further told police she believed Goudeaux was the victim of neglect and possible physical abuse by family or caregivers.

Goudeaux was later moved to a Memphis, Tenn., hospital and died there less than a month later. A spokesman for the coroner in Mississippi County, Ark., said a preliminary cause of death had not been determined but that hospital documents indicated Goudeaux was malnourished.

Goudeaux’s son, Wilton Goudeaux III, 39, was arrested on charges of abuse of an endangered or impaired person on March 9 along with his girlfriend Tonya Patterson, 38, and Goudeaux’s caregiver Mary Odom, 22. Police said Goudeaux III and Patterson each are being held in the Mississippi County jail on $500,000 bond, while Odom is being held on a $50,000 bond.

Mississippi County sheriff’s Capt. Larry Robinson said the investigation is ongoing.

County Prosecutor Scott Ellington said the felony endangerment charge against Yerbey stems from his possession of Goudeaux’s 26-foot camping trailer. Court documents indicate that Goudeaux’s son made multiple attempts to gain access to several annuities valued at more than $100,000 but did not have power of attorney. Police say Yerbey notarized a power of attorney document for Goudeaux’s son who subsequently traded his father’s $6,000 camping trailer to the police chief for an “older model” golf cart.

Ellington said the golf cart was “dilapidated” and the trade was for “less than fair market value.” After county police raised concerns about Yerbey, Ellington said he asked state police to help with the investigation.

“The allegations of elder abuse in this whole case is just really sad,” said Ellington, who is running for Arkansas’ 1st Congressional District.

Court records indicate Goudeaux III and his girlfriend Patterson moved to Joiner in September to take care of his father, who according to Goudeaux III had Alzheimer’s disease. The son and girlfriend were not working and had received no income prior to moving in with Goudeaux, according to the court documents.

Multiple branches of Regions Bank reported possible exploitation of Goudeaux prior to his alleged abuse and subsequent death, police said. Goudeaux had moved large amounts of money from his certificates of deposit into his son’s checking account before his death, according to court documents. Regions Bank employees reported the son was with him when he moved the money, and that the elderly man appeared to be confused, according to the court records.

Police said Yerbey told investigators he was not friends with Goudeaux’s son. However, they said, the chief acknowledged visiting the son at his home each day and talking to him three or four times a day.

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Allen Reed can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/Allen_Reed .

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