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Michigan woman says she wrongly lost guardianship of mother before her death

Posted at 5:30 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 18:20:02-04

(WXYZ)  — When a court appoints a guardian, you can no longer make your own legal or medical decisions.

For years, the 7 Investigators have been exposing guardianship cases where families say their loved ones were wrongly taken from them.

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Ernestine Drayton’s family just filed a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court, alleging negligence from the court-appointed guardian who was legally in charge of their mom and the nursing home where she was staying before she died.

“We didn’t even get to make it back. We didn’t get to say anything to her,” said Chandra Drayton about the final moments of Ernestine’s life.

Chandra says the sad story begins in February of 2018 after Ernestine had some trouble breathing so Chandra took her to Detroit Receiving hospital. While the 58-year-old was in the hospital, Chandra says an Adult Protective Services (APS) worker suddenly started calling her.

“I got a phone call from a lady being very hostile, wanting to have medical records, wanting to have financial information. And she told me her name was Tresna Tupper,” said Chandra.

Chandra says Tupper told her she had to send her mother to Ambassador Rehabilitation nursing home in Detroit.

“It was basically put up on me that if I didn’t send my mom right then, I was neglecting her, like keeping her from her care,” said Chandra.

So Chandra sent her mom to the nursing home, and says she visited her regularly, even though she was commuting back and forth from her home in Tennessee. But within weeks, she says, things got weird.

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Chandra says she received a call from a lawyer telling her there was a court hearing the next day in Wayne County Probate Court.

“I’m like 'that’s definitely not happening. I’m out of town right now, and I won’t be there, and no one’s taking guardianship over my mom,'” said Chandra.

Chandra says she didn’t realize that Tupper had petitioned the court to have Ernestine declared mentally incapacitated, and that Tupper had nominated a professional guardian to be put in charge of Ernestine’s medical decisions.

Chandra says she sent relatives to the courthouse – but they were told there was no hearing. Yet according to the lawsuit Chandra filed, the court docket later shows that a judge appointed Stacy White-Smith’s WhiteHouse Guardian Service.

“This woman started threatening that I would never see my mother again, if I didn’t cooperate with her,” said Chandra.

If these names sound familiar, it’s because we’ve told you about Tupper and White-Smith before.

Back in 2019, we showed you how Tupper petitioned the court to put Detroit grandmother Bessie Owens, against her will, under guardianship with White-Smith.

In Tupper’s guardianship petition for Chandra’s mother, she told the court an APS case alleging neglect had been opened against Ernestine’s daughters in Tennessee in 2017. Chandra denies that, and documents obtained by the 7 investigators show the Michigan APS investigation into Ernestine is full of inconsistent information – calling the case both “substantiated” and “unsubstantiated.”

Tupper also said under penalty of perjury in the petition that Ernestine had been in a car accident, and that her brother was trying to move her from the hospital due to a pending lawsuit. But Chandra says there was no accident and Ernestine’s brother has been dead since 2011.

Yet the probate court approved the guardianship based on Tupper’s petition.

“They’ve been filing petitions for people and families are not notified. I mean, nobody is aware of it! It’s insane,” said Tina Lindsay, a court watcher and advocate of guardianship reform in Michigan. “We need change here.”

Chandra says she later learned Detroit Police had to be called after another resident at the nursing home tried to smother her mom with a pillow. In her lawsuit, Chandra claims the nursing home did little to help Ernestine when her health declined after that.

Chandra also alleges in the lawsuit that Stacy White-Smith put a Do Not Resuscitate order in place when Ernestine died a few months later.

“So I told that lady [White-Smith], 'I don’t care if they have to crack my mom’s chest open, and somebody sit on her, trying to bring her back – do it!!' She was like 'I’m just telling you that’s a waste of the state’s money,'” said Chandra through tears. “We got to the hospital, we were talking to the doctor – he said 'yeah, this lady says she’s your mom’s guardian, and she told us Do Not Resuscitate.'”

Ernestine Drayton died on May 8, 2018. That’s why Chandra is now suing White-Smith and Ambassador Rehabilitation for $10 million.

“At this juncture we have no choice but to go ourselves and file our own lawsuit,” said Rohl.

Wayne County Probate Court officials say Stacey White-Smith is no longer seeking guardianship appointments.

White-Smith told us she never met with Ernestine Drayton while she was her guardian because she alleges Ernestine’s daughters removed her from the nursing home. White-Smith did not provide documentation to us to confirm that. She also denied putting the DNR in place and said she honored the family’s wishes.

Tupper retired from APS after our first two stories on her. She has not returned our phone calls or attempts to reach her at her home to comment on this. The parent company of Ambassador says they can’t talk about this because these events occurred before they operated the nursing home, and they have not responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit.