Prosecutors consider additional charges in care facility death

Two Iowans froze to death at facilities managed by the same company

By: - November 9, 2023 4:14 pm

Prosecutors are considering additional charges in the case of an Iowa woman who froze to death outside this Bondurant care facility in 2022. (Photo by Clark Kauffman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Polk County Attorney’s Office is considering filing additional criminal charges in the case of an Iowa woman who froze to death outside a Bondurant care facility in 2022.

Earlier this week, a certified nursing assistant who had been charged with murder in the case was sentenced to two years of probation on a reduced charge of dependent adult abuse. Lynn Hicks, spokesman for the prosecutors’ office, said the sentencing of Catherine Forkpa doesn’t necessarily mark the end of the investigation.

“We continue to look at this case,” Hicks said. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s not over. But it’s definitely a challenge to try to figure out if there are more charges in this case. Iowa law, as it stands, is very difficult because there’s no negligent homicide law, so we can’t really hold others accountable. The company itself is not considered a party to the crime under Iowa law – but we are continuing to look at this … We’re particularly concerned that this company manages facilities that had two similar deaths of residents within a two-month period in Iowa.”

Jaybird Senior Living is the Cedar Rapids company that managed Bondurant’s Courtyard Estates at Hawthorne Crossing, the assisted living facility where 77-year-old Lynne Stewart froze to death in January 2022. Jaybird also manages Keelson Harbour Senior Living, an assisted living center in Spirit Lake where 95-year-old Elaine Creasey froze to death six weeks earlier, in December 2021.

Jaybird is a for-profit company headed by CEO Kevin Russell, a former lawyer and investment banker from Rancho Santa Fe, California. In recent years, Jaybird has managed 40 senior-living communities in Iowa and more than two dozen others in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Kentucky.

No criminal charges were filed in the Keelson Harbour death, but in the Courtyard Estates case, Forkpa was charged by police with dependent adult abuse. In April 2022, Polk County prosecutors increased that charge to second-degree murder, which carries a penalty of up to 50 years in prison.

This summer, while the murder charge was still pending, Forkpa’s defense attorneys deposed top officials at Courtyard Estates. Shortly after that, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal that resulted in the felony murder charge against Forkpa reverting to misdemeanor dependent adult abuse.

On Monday, a judge sentenced Forkpa to two years of probation on the abuse charge. While on probation, Forkpa is barred from working at any assisted living facility or nursing home.

Phone alerts were ignored

Transcripts of depositions in the case — now sealed from public view — indicate that top officials at Courtyard Estates failed to respond to several hours’ worth of phone alerts about door alarms sounding inside Courtyard Estates.

State inspectors’ reports indicate Stewart walked out of her room at Courtyard Estates at about 4:32 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2022, triggering a series of alarms at the facility. At about 9:40 p.m., an alarm on an exit door in the facility was triggered, indicating someone may have left the building. According to police, surveillance video showed that in the hours that followed, Forkpa walked around the facility for hours without checking on Stewart or resetting the alarms.

Shortly after 6 a.m. on Jan. 21, workers found Stewart outside, on the ground, with parts of her body covered in ice. Forkpa, who had worked at Courtyard Estates for seven months, was fired.

State inspectors reviewed screenshots of a phone belonging to Dwala Marie Lehman, the executive director of Courtyard Estates at the time of Stewart’s death. According to state records, the phone indicated that by 9:44 p.m., Lehman was receiving alerts about an alarm on the building’s exit door, and that she continued to receive those alerts every five minutes through the night while she slept.

In her deposition, Lehman testified that she couldn’t recall whether she contacted the staff at Courtyard Estates to have them check on Stewart after the alarms were triggered.

She also testified that Forkpa didn’t come on duty until 10:18 p.m. on Jan. 20, and that by then the alarm on Stewart’s door had been sounding for almost six hours.

Courtyard Estates’ former health care coordinator, Jamie Haub, also gave sworn, pretrial testimony in the case. Haub said she was the on-call nurse at the time of Stewart’s death, and she acknowledged telling state inspectors that while she was at home that night, she received continuous alerts on her phone about the door alarms.

She said she failed to respond because she was with her family and, later, went to bed.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.