published Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Jury to decide ex-health care worker Walter Small's fate

Walter Small looked back at the rest of Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom during his trial at the City-County Courts building. Small was originally charged with criminally negligent homicide as well as filing false reports in connection with the death of Robert Young. Prosecutors later dropped the charge of criminally negligent homicide and Small was on trial only for filing false reports.
Walter Small looked back at the rest of Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom during his trial at the City-County Courts building. Small was originally charged with criminally negligent homicide as well as filing false reports in connection with the death of Robert Young. Prosecutors later dropped the charge of criminally negligent homicide and Small was on trial only for filing false reports.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

A Hamilton County jury will try to decide today if a former health care worker lied to police about events surrounding the death of a patient.

Walter Small, 43, faces three counts of giving false reports to police during an investigation the year after the Nov. 12, 2007, death of Robbie Young, whom Small cared for at The Health Care Center at Standifer Place.

The charges carry a prison sentence of two to 12 years.

Assistant District Attorney Boyd Patterson has said that Small changed his story about what happened on the day Young was taken to the hospital after apparent seizures. Young, 31, died six days later.

A 60-pound cerebral palsy patient, Young could not physically care for himself. Small and other nurses’ aides had to bathe, clean, bed and feed him.

Small initially told police that he checked on Young, saw him having a seizure and alerted nurses. But later he said Young was in the shower when he fell back and his head hit the shower bar “and bounced.”

During testimony Wednesday, Young’s aunt, Rita Richey, held her hands to her face and quietly cried when witnesses described her nephew’s death.

Outside court, Richey said family members learned of Young’s death only when they tried to visit him weeks after he had died. No one called them to report the death, she said.

Near the end of day, Standifer Place head nurse Ted Kirby testified that Small never told him Young had fallen. Small has maintained that Kirby and another immediate supervisor told him not to tell police that Young had fallen and hit his head in the shower.

Small was charged with criminally negligent homicide in addition to the false-report counts, but the homicide charge was dropped before trial started Tuesday.

Small took the stand in his own defense, describing how Young jerked his body, sending the chair that he was sitting on backward and striking his head.

Patterson jabbed questions at Small during cross-examination.

“Let me just cut to it. When you gave this statement to the agent you knew there had been a fall?” Patterson asked.

“Correct,” Small replied.

“And you didn’t report it?” Patterson asked.

“Correct,” Small replied.

“You told [your supervisor] that he did not fall?” Patterson asked.

“That would be correct,” Small replied.

“And that would be false?” Patterson asked.

“That would be correct,” Small replied.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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