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Ophelia Tarpeh, Appellant v. United States

March 21, 2013

OPHELIA TARPEH, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF2-17007-09) (Hon. Florence Y. Pan, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Chief Judge:

Argued January 12, 2012

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, FISHER, Associate Judge, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

Opinion for the court by Chief JudgeWASHINGTON.

Dissenting opinion byAssociate JudgeFISHERat page 16.

Appellant Ophelia Tarpeh appeals from her conviction for criminal neglect of a vulnerable adult in violation of D.C. Code § 22-934 (2011 Supp.). Tarpeh contends that the record was insufficient to support her conviction. We agree, and reverse the conviction.

I.

Appellant Ophelia Tarpeh was a certified nursing assistant ("CNA") for ten years and had been an employee of Leewood Healthcare Center, a nursing home located in Virginia, for two months at the time of the incident in question. Leewood is comprised of three nursing units: the Azalea unit for health care patients and those who require some assistance; the Dogwood unit for stroke patients and those who require great assistance; and the Star unit for Alzheimer‟s patients.

Tarpeh regularly worked in the Azalea unit, but on the morning of February 23, 2009, she was instructed to take Frances Young, a stroke patient and Dogwood unit resident of Leewood, to a dental appointment at the Washington Hospital Center ("WHC") in the District of Columbia. Tarpeh had never been asked before to transport a patient while employed at Leewood. It was also Tarpeh‟s first time traveling in the District of Columbia.

When Tarpeh arrived at the Dogwood unit, she found Young wrapped in a blanket and seated in a wheelchair, apparently ready to leave for her appointment. However, unbeknownst to Tarpeh, the wheelchair in which Young was seated did not have footrests, and Young, although covered in a blanket, was dressed underneath only in a tee-shirt and undergarments.*fn1 Young, who was overweight*fn2 and sixty-one years old at the time, was paralyzed on the right side of her body and could not speak.*fn3

Tarpeh wheeled Young to a taxi waiting outside, and the driver assisted by putting Young, who remained seated in the wheelchair during the taxi ride, into the vehicleand locking the wheelchair into place. After an hour-long drive, the driver dropped Tarpeh and Young off at a hospital. But after entering the building, a nurse informed Tarpeh that she was at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center ("VA") instead of at the WHC where Young‟s appointment was scheduled. Upon being told by the VA nurse that the WHC was across the street,*fn4 and wanting Young to make her dental appointment, Tarpeh decided to wheel Young to the WHC.

Tarpeh did not have a clear idea of where she was going and became lost. She wheeled Young for several minutes eventually reaching a street corner when Young first screamed and moaned. Tarpeh locked the wheelchair to see what was going on, and saw that the blanket covering Young was caught under one of the tires of the wheelchair. Tarpeh also noticed that Young was wearing only socks but no shoes, and that there were no footrests on the wheelchair. Tarpeh removed the blanket from the wheel and tucked it underneath Young. At this point, however, Tarpeh could not wheel Young forward or backward without Young‟s foot dragging on the ground. In order to get her to the nearest hospital in sight, which was then the National Rehabilitation Hospital ("NRH"), Tarpeh slowly wheeled Young across the street.

Young soon moaned again and threw off the blanket into the street. Tarpeh saw that Young‟s foot was bent under the wheelchair. Tarpeh decided to continue pushing Young across the street toward the NRH, but Young, who weighed over 260 pounds, began to "slide off the chair." It took Tarpeh at least three minutes to navigate the distance between the street corner and the entrance to the NRH. During this time, Young‟s feet continued dragging across the pavement.

When Tarpeh arrived at the NRH, she was alone with Young.*fn5 Tarpeh stopped wheeling Young once they were inside the two double doors at the entrance of the NRH. Young was screaming and moaning, and her foot was bleeding profusely.*fn6 The events transpiring after the arrival at the hospital are fully set forth in the dissent.
Tarpeh was subsequently charged with misdemeanor criminal neglect of a vulnerable adult. A bench trial was held, and Tarpeh was found guilty. The trial court determined that Tarpeh was on notice that there was a problem at the street corner where Young first screamed and moaned. The trial court then found that Tarpeh‟s conduct, in pushing Young from the street corner to the NRH, despite the fact that she was aware that the wheelchair had no footrests and that Young‟s foot was dragging on the ground, constituted reckless indifference in violation of D.C. Code § 22-934. Tarpeh was sentenced to 180 ...

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