NewsMetro Detroit NewsInvestigations

Actions

Detroit grandmother freed from guardianship after 7 Investigation

Posted: 6:41 PM, Nov 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-22 07:22:25-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — She’s a 78-year-old Detroit grandmother who just wanted a wheelchair ramp. Instead, she was put under court guardianship. The 7 Investigators were in court Thursday when the Chief Probate Judge terminated that guardianship, bringing a lot of joy to Bessie and her family.

Bessie Owens can now make her medical, legal and financial decisions.

And not only did the judge terminate this guardianship and conservatorship – he also put Adult Protective Services on notice that things need to change with how they’re petitioning the court to put seniors under guardianship.

Cheers and applause filled the halls of Wayne County Probate Court Thursday where supporters gathered to watch Chief Judge Freddie Burton Jr. terminate Bessie’s guardianship and conservatorship cases.

“I do not want or need strangers or bureaucrats over my life or finances,” Bessie told the judge.

Bessie called the 7 Investigators in August after she discovered Adult Protective Services investigator Tresna Tupper had petitioned the court, saying Bessie was “medically frail” and “unable to manage her affairs.”

At the time, Bessie says all she needed was a wheelchair ramp so she could get out of her house safely. Instead, court records show Tupper told Judge Burton that she couldn’t find Bessie’s adult children to tell them about the guardianship, as required by law, even though the 7 Investigators easily found Owens’ daughter on Facebook.

“It does look like there’s some things that, in the course of doing your job, that some things were missed,” Burton told an APS supervisor in court on Thursday. The supervisor was in court instead of Tupper.

Bessie’s three adult children were also present.

“It seems to me it would be pretty simple to find them. Were other efforts made,” Judge Burton asked.

The supervisor maintained that Tupper followed APS protocol, but ultimately no one objected to Bessie’s request to drop the guardianship and conservatorship.

“It’s clear to me there’s insufficient evidence to continue the guardianship, and so I will grant the petition to terminate guardianship as you requested,” ruled Judge Burton.

A large group of anti-guardianship protestors in the courtroom cheered and applauded the judge’s decision.

The 7 Investigators showed you last week how Bessie’s conservator, lawyer Cynthia Williams, was asking the court to approve $687.50 in legal fees, even though she never met with Bessie.

“Why are you trying to charge her $687 when she only has $6500,” Catallo asked.

“Because that is my fee for my services,” Williams said.

“What did you actually do though,” Catallo asked.

“It’s on my account, did you see it,” Williams said.

Today Williams argued briefly with the judge, but she ultimately waived her fees and the judge terminated the conservatorship as well.

“The thing that’s important here, Mrs. Owens now has her ramp, and the court is apprised. We need to get out of her way and let her go live her life,” Judge Burton said.

“[I’m] elated and glad it was terminated, there was no need for it. And I think there should be something addressed to keep this from happening to another person and their family and friends,” said Bessie after the ruling.

“Did you have any notice from Adult Protective Services this was happening,” Catallo asked Mischia Smith, Bessie Owens’ son.

“No. I talked to my mother, who I talk to on a daily basis and she informed me, they didn’t contact me at all. And I was very surprised by this whole thing. I believe they should be punished for what they do,” Smith said.

Judge Burton also put APS on notice that he wants a meeting with state officials to make sure they are giving family members notice, before taking the extreme step of declaring an adult legally incapacitated.

“It does look like there’s several things we need to shore up, particularly in terms of making certain notice is provided,” Judge Burton said.

Bob Wheaton, Public Information Officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees APS, issued this statement last week about investigator Tupper and this case:

“The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is committed to respecting human dignity and protecting the health, safety and well-being of vulnerable adults. Adult Protective Services takes very seriously its responsibility to protect vulnerable adults. APS follows policies put in place to help understand and respond to each unique situation, and when necessary, works with partners in the court who make the final decision on what’s best for these individuals. Adult Protective Services aims to provide the least-restrictive services that are necessary to keep a vulnerable adult safe. The department is looking into the concerns that have been expressed.”

If you have a story for Heather, please call 248-827-4473 or email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com