Harris County Attorney Ryan Celebrates First Year of Senior Justice Assessment Center

In honor of World Elder Abuse Day on June 15, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is lauding the accomplishments and contributions of the Harris County Senior Justice Assessment Center (SJAC).

In its first year, the SJAC has compiled a successful record of serving senior victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation. The County Attorney’s Office works collaboratively with several agencies and experts at the SJAC to help Harris County victims over the age of 65. The facility is the first of its kind in Texas.

“Many of our seniors are vulnerable to outrageous crimes, sometimes by their own family members or caregivers,” County Attorney Ryan said. “They deserve our respect and assistance after years of working, raising families and helping our community.”

The other agencies involved with SJAC are the Harris County Guardianship Program, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (Adult Protective Services), the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the Better Business Bureau Education Foundation, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Harris Health System, the Houston Police Department, and UTHealth.

The agencies meet regularly—at least twice each month—to review referrals from participating agencies and law enforcement.  The SJAC teams discuss each client’s needs and how they can be met. Other professionals, including a forensic nurse, a psychiatrist, forensic case managers, geriatric health specialists, mental health professionals and lawyers participate in the discussions and planning.

Since SJAC first began this collaboration April 1, 2017, through May 23, 2018, it has opened 133 cases. Thirty-nine have been closed and 94 are still active.

The most common type of elder abuse is financial exploitation, situations in which someone takes advantage of a senior’s diminishing capacity. SJAC has handled over 100 of these cases since it opened. One case involved the forgery of a senior’s signature to a deed resulting in the sale of the property to an unsuspecting third party. Through SJAC, the Houston Police Department’s investigation led to the prosecution by the District Attorney of the forger who was ordered to pay the senior $27,500 in restitution.

Another case involved a person employed at an assisted living facility who obtained identifying information and financial accounts for three seniors. The case was referred to the Department of Public Safety, whose investigation led to an arrest and prosecution for three felonies. An SJAC forensic case manager contacted the seniors or their caregivers to educate them about how to prevent future exploitation and re-victimization.

A number of seniors are victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse or both. The SJAC helped prove a woman had been sexually assaulted at a senior facility during her stay there. The alleged perpetrator was identified and was found to have a history of committing assaults at similar facilities. He was convicted and sentenced to prison for life.

Seniors who are 80 or older are most likely to be victimized. Since SJAC has been in operation, 18 charges have been filed against individuals victimizing seniors with six convictions so far.

“Approximately ten percent of Harris County’s population is age 65 or older,” County Attorney Ryan said. “Many of them suffer from abuse and neglect but few cases are reported. We want to let our seniors and their caregivers know that there is a place where they can get help and justice.”

If you know of a senior who needs help, contact the Texas Family and Protective Services hotline at 1-800-252-5400 or www.txabusehotline.org, or contact your local law enforcement agency. These entities will then refer the case to the SJAC when necessary.