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Neighbor: Elderly neglect reported

Concerned friends tried to sneak woman food

POSTED: April 23, 2008 5:02 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Benny Charles lives across from the Hazel Street house where Gladys Smallwood lived with her son, Larry Smallwood, and his live-in girlfriend Brenda Ivey. Charles said he called the Division of Family and Children's Services several times for Gladys Smallwood, who authorities say was left to lie in human waste without food or medical treatment.

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A neighbor and a relative of Gladys Smallwood both insist they called social service agencies to get help for the 79-year-old woman prior to her death from suspected neglect, but officials with both the state Division of Family and Children Services and Division of Aging Services say they could find no record of those calls.

People who knew the aging widow said she lived in near-starvation and squalor with her son Larry Smallwood, and his live-in girlfriend, Brenda Ivey, in a small wood-frame house on Hazel Street off Atlanta Highway.

"I called DFCS three times," said Benny Charles, who lives across the street from the home, where Gladys Smallwood was allegedly left to lie in bed in human waste without adequate food or medical treatment, while her son told neighbors she was in a nursing home. "They knew about this last year. I never saw one DFCS car out there. Not the first one."

In fact, under current law, DFCS would not have been responsible for investigating the case.

In Georgia, Adult Protective Services, the entity responsible for investigating elder abuse and neglect, no longer falls under the Division of Family and Children Services, as it did as recently as 2002. Instead, all elder-related calls to DFCS are referred to the Division of Aging Services in Atlanta, officials said.

"A referral (of a case) would not come from DFCS," said DFCS spokeswoman Beverly Jones. "If we got a call, we would refer them to Adult Protective Services."

Hall County DFCS director Bebe Philbin said in a brief phone interview Friday that she could not "confirm or deny" any investigations, and that she "can’t give out that information," on specific cases. Philbin then referred all questions to Jones, the official DFCS spokeswoman in Atlanta.

Jones said that a search Friday of phone logs at the Hall County DFCS office for the first two months of 2008 turned up no informational referrals for a case involving a Gladys Smallwood.

Smallwood was admitted to Northeast Georgia Medical Center on Feb. 25 after her son called for an ambulance. Hospital officials called Adult Protective Services the following day to report Smallwood’s condition, which included what law enforcement officials described as a "serious infection."

"We told the hospital to call law enforcement to make a report because the person was already in a safe environment," Adult Protective Services spokeswoman Edna Jackson said. Jackson said that was the first call that her agency received on the case.

Soon after, a criminal investigation began.

Meanwhile, on March 3, as Gladys Smallwood lay dying in a hospital bed, Ivey cashed a Social Security check made out to the widow for $272 at an Atlanta Highway grocery store, investigators allege in court documents. Ivey had a misdemeanor family violence battery case pending in state court at the time. The charge stemmed from a July 2007 incident in which she allegedly struck Gladys Smallwood in the face in a dispute over food, causing her to bleed and bruise.

That injury to her cheek never healed, according to Charles, the neighbor, because she never got proper medical treatment for it.

Charles said he and others in the neighborhood would sneak food to the woman while her son and Ivey were away.

"All my friends took her something to eat," he said. "You had to take the trash back with you, so (Larry Smallwood and Ivey) wouldn’t find out."

Once her son found out, Gladys Smallwood no longer allowed neighbors to give her food, Charles said.

Charles claimed that when Larry Smallwood was offered information on the local Meals on Wheels program for elderly shut-ins, "he took the papers and tore ‘em up. He said, ‘I don’t need your damn help.’"

Others who encountered Gladys Smallwood, including a great-great-niece and a witness to the alleged assault involving Ivey, said they made calls to social service agencies on her behalf.

Beverly Emmett, a distant relative of Smallwood’s, said she called a toll-free number in Atlanta after being given the number from the local DFCS office and left a message.

"I left a message and nobody ever contacted me back," Emmett said.

Charles claimed another concerned person called an Atlanta phone number three times and no action was taken.

Department of Human Resources officials said it is difficult to confirm or deny those claims without knowing when the calls were made, what numbers were called and what information was provided by the callers. Any record of informational referrals made in the Hall County DFCS office prior to July 2007 would be shredded, Jones said.

Smallwood and Ivey remain in the Hall County jail without bond, charged with abuse of a person older than 65 and forgery.

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh would not comment Friday on whether he is considering murder charges.

"Pending the results of the ongoing investigation, we will be making a determination as to whether any additional charges would be warranted," Darragh said.

Emmett, the relative, is convinced that her great-great-aunt was failed by the system.

"Something should have been done years ago and it wasn’t," Emmett said. "And it took her death to make people realize that."



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