Thursday, January 11, 2007

Corrupticut’s Growing Bad Reputation

Anything to do with detaining, arresting, or “helping” citizens in Connecticut is filled with abuse and corruption. Click Here for more on this theme.

Ex-Caregivers Given Plea Deals
Lesser Charges Allow Three To Avoid Jail Time In Case Of Mentally Retarded Woman's Choking Death
January 11, 2007
By ALAINE GRIFFIN, Courant Staff Writer

NEW HAVEN -- Three former state employees who faced criminal charges in the June 2005 choking death of a mentally retarded woman entered no-contest pleas Wednesday in Superior Court.

All three had been fired from their jobs from the Department of Mental Retardation after an investigation into the death of 52-year-old Rosemary Hicock, a Southbury Training School resident in need of around-the-clock supervision. Hicock choked on a hamburger while sitting in a van in a Hamden shopping center while one of her caregivers went shopping.

Prosecutors agreed to deals that allowed Kimberly Rivnack, Evelyn Mensah and Barbara Williams to plead to lesser charges of reckless endangerment and criminally negligent homicide in exchange for no jail time.

Judge Richard A. Damiani accepted the agreed-upon recommendations of suspended sentences with three years' probation for Rivnack and Mensah and one year of probation for Williams. The plea deals were struck on the eve of jury selection in Rivnack's trial. The no-contest pleas were not admissions of guilt for the women but meant they did not want to fight the charges. Williams and Rivnack had faced more serious manslaughter charges.

"Based on the information that was discovered during the preparation of Kimberly Rivnack's trial, I feel they were appropriate resolutions and the [Hicock] family is in agreement with that," Assistant State's Attorney Stacey M. Haupt said.

Mensah, 36, of Seymour, had applied last October for accelerated rehabilitation but Damiani made it clear at Wednesday's hearing he was not granting the special form of probation for first-time criminal offenders to any of the women because they initially lied to police. In their initial interviews with police, the three workers made up a cover story about how Hicock had died.

"It comes down to all three of you not telling the truth from the beginning," Damiani told the trio. "That's why we're here today."

Haupt said the coverup brought more trouble for the women and put Hicock's "family through more heartache and misery than they needed to be put through."

At first, the women told police they were on the road after stopping at McDonald's when Hicock began to choke on a hamburger. They said they pulled into the parking lot of T.J. Maxx in Hamden to help her. But Mensah later told police that Rivnack had gone into T.J. Maxx and shopped for about an hour, leaving Hicock alone in her van. Mensah said she and Williams waited in another van in the same parking lot with their clients, according to court records.

Mensah told police that when she decided to tell the truth about what had happened, Rivnack repeatedly called her and told her to "stick to the story," court records say. Further investigation showed that Mensah may have been in the van with Hicock when she choked on the hamburger.

According to the warrant, Mensah had suggested calling 911, but Williams, 47, of Waterbury, told her they should get Rivnack out of the store, court records say. By the time they called 911, it was too late to save Hicock, despite their attempts at resuscitation.

Hicock's sisters, Ruth Hofmann and Laura Rodkey, were in court during Wednesday's emotional hearing. At one point, a sobbing Rivnack, who had cared for Hicock for 10 years, turned and faced the sisters.

"I loved Rosie so much it broke my heart when I tried to save her," Rivnack, 41, of Waterbury, said. "I did all that I could. I wish that I could take that day back but I can't."

Rivnack's lawyer, Rob Serafinowicz of New Haven, said Rivnack had gone into the TJ Maxx to buy Hicock a pair of shorts to wear that day at the Special Olympics. It was a hot summer day and Hicock was dressed in pants, he said.

"It was a situation that went wrong but it was very uncharacteristic for all three of them," Serafinowicz said. "One bad day things went horribly wrong and their whole lives were affected."

"We feel justice has been done for Rosie," Hicock's family said in a statement they released after Wednesday's hearing. "We wish they simply would have been honest from the beginning and more importantly cared for Rosie like they were supposed to. We miss her."



A discussion of this story with Courant Staff Writer Alaine Griffin is scheduled to be shown on New England Cable News each hour today between 9 a.m. and noon.



Contact Alaine Griffin at agriffin@courant.com.

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