A Pulaski County Circuit judge imposed career-ending sanctions Friday on a certified nursing assistant who used a severely disabled client's money to pay for 15 months of Netflix streaming service worth $281.
Summer Noel Brown of Jacksonville, also known as Summer Warren, was the second of two of the victim's former caregivers to plead guilty to exploiting an endangered or impaired person, a Class C felony charge, that carries a maximum penalty of 10-years in prison, in exchange for a financial identity theft count, which carries a 20-year maximum, being dropped.
Under the conditions of Brown's plea agreement, negotiated by defense attorney Jon Johnson and Gabrielle Davis-Jones, assistant attorney-general, sentencing was left up to Judge Karen Whatley.
Prosecution and defense agreed that probation was appropriate for Brown, 30, with Whatley sentencing the pregnant mother of three to three years on probation with a $100 fine and an order to perform 25 hours of community service.
The sides did not agree on the conditions of her sentence, which Brown's attorney asked to be imposed without a formal finding of guilt, which he said would allow Brown, a career caregiver, to retain her state license. The prosecutor opposed that condition, noting that the money Brown diverted monthly to the streaming service, ranging from $17.43 to $19.61, was a significant loss from the $50 monthly the client got to live on.
The client was afflicted with Leigh syndrome, a severe neurological disorder that did not affect her mental faculties but left her bedridden and barely able to speak more than a few words.
The woman was forced to rely almost completely on her caregivers for everything. She relied on them to look out for her, and Brown took advantage, the prosecutor said, noting that Brown's clients who endorsed and supported her all had families to watch out for them. Further, the woman already had a Netflix subscription.
There was no request for restitution since Brown's client, who was 45 when the theft was discovered, has since died, leaving no estate or known survivors.
The judge told Brown that she believed her to be genuinely contrite but that she could not overlook that Brown had taken advantage of a "very vulnerable" client, particularly by taking so much of the woman's income.
"I don't like her losing her license but anyone who might hire her would need to know what she did," the judge said. "I do believe you are genuinely sorry for what you did."
Brown delivered a tearful apology, saying she'd made a "horrible mistake" that would never be repeated. Brown said she had loved the client. Brown told the judge that she believed care-giving to be her life's work, saying that even as a child she was drawn to helping others. She said she's worked professionally in the field since she was 17, describing how she's been able to continue working since her August 2022 arrest along with caring for her seriously ill mother.
"My whole childhood and adulthood ... I've taken care of people," she said.
The judge received written character endorsements, including at least one from a client she's worked for since 2007. That man's daughter, Michelle Andrews, told the judge her father would not be as healthy as he is without the "loving, caring" Brown's support. Andrews testified she thought of Brown as a daughter, saying her trust in Brown has never wavered.
Doris Crain, a retired nurse, said Brown has cared for her 52-year-old daughter for the past 2½ years, saying she was very particular about who cares for her child.
"My daughter really loves her. We both feel .. her heart is really good," Crain said. "I trust her with my life... and my daughter who's the most important person in the world to me."
As a first-time felony offender, Brown can have her conviction expunged if she completes probation satisfactorily.
Brown has been in trouble with the law before, In November 2019, she vandalized the car of an acquaintance but the subsequent felony criminal mischief charge was reduced to a misdemeanor as part of a plea agreement that required her to serve one year on probation and pay victim Taylor Walker $4,468. In September last year, she was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge that was dismissed in March after she completed court-ordered conditions.
According to arrest affidavits, the charges were the result of a probe by the attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, based on a December 2021 report to the authorities from the Adult Protective Services division of the Department of Human Services regarding money taken from the client's account by Brown and another caregiver, 24-year-old Mariah Jnique Courtney of North Little Rock.
Courtney similarly pleaded guilty to exploiting an endangered person in May in exchange for a sentence of five years on probation and $1,000 fine.
The resulting review by AG investigator Dane Pedersen determined that the women, both employed by Care Above All Care, had taken advantage of their client, with Courtney accessing the woman's bank account through CashApp on 16 occasions between March 2021 and September 2021 in amounts ranging from $5 to $117.
The money was reportedly sent to nine of Courtney's friends, with the recipient of the $117 designated as "Summer B" receiving it the day before Brown's September 2021 birthday, according to the affidavit. Recipient "Mariah Cou" received six CashApp allocations of $39 to $100.