"Elder abuse alleged at assisted–living facility"
Los Angeles Times
Four former employees were arrested after a tipster told a widow that her husband had been punched and tormented by an employee the night he died at Silverado Senior Living facility in Calabasas.
By Scott Glover, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 3, 2008
Four former employees of an upscale Calabasas assisted-living facility were arrested Thursday on suspicion of elder abuse stemming from the suspicious death of an 80-year-old resident last year, authorities said.
The four are suspected of abusing Elmore Kittower, a retired engineer whose body was exhumed in November after an anonymous whistle–blower from Silverado Senior Living told Kittower's family and authorities that he was the victim of foul play.
After an 11–month investigation, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department homicide detectives said they have evidence that 20–year–old Cesar Ulloa physically assaulted Kittower in the minutes before his death and had been tormenting him for months beforehand. Ulloa, who faces potential charges of elder abuse and torture, is being held on $1– million bail.
Detectives described Ulloa as the alleged ringleader of a group of former Silverado employees who routinely harassed and abused Kittower and several other residents of the hillside facility, which specializes in caring for Alzheimer’s and other memory–impaired patients.
The L.A. County coroner’s office ultimately determined that Kittower died of a blood clot in his lung, but indicated he had suffered blunt force trauma though it was not an immediate cause of death, according to a source familiar with the findings.
"This is something that saddens us very much. We are outraged at the possibility that these allegations are possibly true," said Mark Mostow, a spokesman for Silverado. "The company has zero tolerance for any mistreatment of our residents."
Kittower’s 84–year–old widow, Rita, said she was grateful to detectives for pursuing the case but was devastated by their findings.
"When I heard what they did to him it just about killed me," she said of her husband of 49 years. "I can’t get it out of my mind. It’s a sore that won’t heal."
Rita Kittower said she was initially told by a staff member at Silverado that her husband had died in his sleep. She recalled thinking at the time that at least he would be free of the torment he’d been feeling since losing much of his memory and independence to a severe stroke a year earlier.
But the day after her husband was buried she received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as "Maria." Kittower said the woman told her that a fellow Silverado employee had punched her husband in the eye and wrapped a towel around his head as if he were trying to suffocate him shortly before he died.
The woman also made an anonymous call to the Lost Hills sheriff’s station and sent an anonymous letter to a nearby fire station.
Investigators were not able to identify the tipster but interviewed nearly 80 employees, residents’ family members and others.
Sgt. Bill Cotter of the sheriff’s homicide bureau declined to provide details about the type of abuse or number of alleged victims because prosecutors in the district attorney’s office were still considering which charges to file against various defendants in the case.
Rita Kittower said she was familiar with some of the employees who were arrested.
"I know those boys," she said, adding that she had no inkling that they may have been mistreating her husband.
"It would never come to my mind to think about it, not in a place like that," she said.
Kittower’s nephew, Paul Zwerdling, said the family has become deeply disillusioned with Silverado, which Rita Kittower paid about $75,000 a year to care for her husband.
Despite the circumstances surrounding Kittower’s death, Zwerdling said Silverado sent his widow two questionnaires asking how he’d enjoyed his stay at the facility. He said that officials from the home have been less than forthcoming with the family and that the facility’s investigation concluded that staff had done nothing improper in connection with Kittower’s death.
Zwerdling said the family is planning to offer a $10,000 reward for more information regarding Kittower’s treatment at the facility.
In addition to Ulloa, those arrested were Luis Arrelleano, 21, of Winnetka, Juan Soto, 21, of Winnetka and Maria Gomez, 34, of Oxnard.
Cotters said detectives are still hoping to speak with the initial informant and asked that that person or anyone with information about that person call the sheriff’s homicide bureau at (323) 890–5500.