Prosecutors have closed the investigation into Tristan Sovern's 1998 death at Charter Behavioral Health Systems, Guilford County District Attorney Jim Kimel said Friday.
The district attorney's office decided not to pursue additional criminal charges against other Charter employees after a jury found a Greensboro health care worker not guilty last month in Sovern's death.Sovern, 16, died after Megan Duffany and six other health care workers at the Greensboro Charter hospital restrained the teen by placing a bed sheet and towel over his mouth and nose on March 4, 1998.
Duffany, 23, was the first health care worker in the state to be charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient. She was working as a mental health aide at Charter at the time of Sovern's death.
The medical examiner ruled that Sovern, who had a bad cold at the time, died from asphyxiation by an external airway blockage. Duffany's attorneys argued during her trial that Sovern died of other causes.
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Prosecutors sought an indictment against Duffany because she placed and held the towel and folded bed sheet over Sovern's head, Kimel said.
But prosecutors decided that if a jury wouldn't find her guilty of Sovern's death, then they would have an even more difficult time proving the other workers were responsible for his death, Kimel said.
``We felt we could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,' Kimel said. ``It could be that jurors had some doubt that the asphyxiation was the proximate cause of death.'
To prove involuntary manslaughter in Sovern's death, prosecutors had to prove that Duffany acted with criminal negligence to such a degree that her gross recklessness or carelessness amounted to a heedless indifference to Sovern's safety and rights.
Charter officials would say little Friday about the district attorney's decision.
``We're very pleased with the district attorney's decision not to pursue further charges,' said Nancy Reaves, CEO of Charter. Reaves would not comment further.
Charter's 90 mental health facilities across the country were the subject of a ``60 Minutes II' investigation that aired during Duffany's trial.
The TV report pointed out that Charter admits about 120,000 patients each year, half of them juveniles, and last year took in $730 million, half of that taxpayer money in the form of Medicare or Medicaid payments.
CBS investigators found public records showing that Sovern had been the third patient in four months to die while being restrained in a Charter hospital. ``60 Minutes II' said it had documented 32 patients who died while being restrained in mental health facilities other than Charter's.
CBS said its investigation found untrained staffs, unsafe wards and patients getting hurt inside Charter hospitals.
Sovern's parents checked him into Charter psychiatric hospital in Greensboro because he was suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. Sovern had a history of emotional disorders and behavioral problems. According to testimony from Charter workers, Sovern threatened to rape teenage girls and kill staffers, and he said his goal was to commit suicide.
Since his death, Jean Allen, Sovern's adoptive mother, has become a vocal advocate for reforms in mental health and mental retardation facilities.
Although the district attorney's office wasn't able to gain a conviction in Sovern's death, Kimel described the process as a positive process that raised awareness of the use of restraints in mental facilities.
``I think it raised the public's awareness of what was going on there,' Kimel said. ``I think it was a deterrent effect in that it shows prosecutors aren't afraid to bring criminal charges.'