With help from state and federal authorities, Columbus police have expanded an investigation that uncovered what they say is a series of violations at a licensed group care home and an unlicensed facility that took in disabled patients.
Police Sgt. Mark Richards said the collaborative investigation sends a resounding message that elderly and disabled adult exploitation will not be tolerated in Muscogee County.
“This investigation shows how the Columbus Police Department is joining with social services agencies to reverse the trend of exploiting the elderly,” Richards said in a statement.
At the center of the investigation are Sheryl Drakeford, 55, director of the licensed Loving Care Independent Living Center at 4225 Alton St. and maintenance employee Bruce Davis, 61. The other two suspects are Marcus Miles, 32, and his wife, Kashanda Miles, 35, who are accused of operating an unlicensed group care home at 5627 Monmouth Drive in the Yorktown neighborhood off St. Marys Road.
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Police reportedly discovered deplorable living conditions and financial mismanagement Dec. 4 on Alton Street after a kitchen fire ignited and forced the Georgia Department of Community Health and police to find new homes for 19 disabled adults. Drakeford and Davis were each charged with one count of felony exploitation and intimidation of a disabled adult. Both were released from the Muscogee County Jail on $25,000 bond.
A probe of Loving Care started two months ago after the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Inspector General, the Georgia Healthcare Facility Regulation Division and Columbus police looked into allegations of human trafficking and sexual exploitation after the Mileses were arrested in early November. They were charged with aggravated child molestation and two counts each of false imprisonment and sexual assault on a person in custody.
Three women had told police they escaped from the Miles home after military police found them at Fort Benning. A girl, 15, later told the FBI that she was sexually assaulted at the home.
During the investigation at Loving Care, police reportedly learned that Drakeford would routinely take in elderly and disabled adults into her home, and it was overcrowded. Some patients allegedly would be outsourced to the unlicensed home run by the Mileses.
Officials said sometimes three patients would be in a room that would house only two people at Loving Care. Others would sleep on the bathroom floor or on a couch. As the overcrowding grew, police reported some of the more “obnoxious and troubling patients” would be sent to the unlicensed facility, many worse than the home in which they were staying. “The patients would sometimes have to endure some rather unspeakable acts of physical cruelty and sexual abuse,” Richards said.
Police said they found violations in ference to the care of food and medical treatment to patients. Canned goods had expired dates in rusted cans. Dried beans were bug infested and covered in roach feces.
Some patients were not getting enough food and the understaffed facility gave them inadequate medical treatment, according to the release.
The investigation also reportedly revealed the facility was in violation of several health care regulations when it comes to staffing, inadequate food storage, medical mismanagement and maintaining a facility over capacity.
Drakeford is accused of collecting hundreds of dollars from patients over the years, including money that should have been received as their own spending cash. “Many of the patients never had any clue where their money went,” Richards said.
Police said more arrests are possible in the investigation. Suspected abuse should be reported to the Department of Community Health from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday by calling 1-866-552-4464 or 404-657-5250.