Local district attorneys launch new teams aimed to protect the elderly, disabled

SULLIVAN COUNTY, TN (WJHL)- One out of ten adults over the age of 60 have experienced neglect or exploitation, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Now because of a new law, Tennessee district attorneys are launching teams that seek justice for elderly adults and adults with disabilities. In January they launched Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams made up of law enforcement, prosecutors, and protective services.

Before now, there was not an organized system to prosecute abusers.

Law enforcement and prosecutors in Sullivan County said they see abuse cases involving people with disabilities and elderly people every day, people being starved, neglected, beaten, and exploited.

And before now, “A lot of the cases may have simply been closed,” Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Amy Hinkle said.

Because of the unique challenges in these cases, many never got anywhere.

“A lot of times, vulnerable adults will be hesitant to tell you details of the crime that may be alleged due to the perpetrator. A lot of times it is a family member and they don’t want to get the family member in trouble,” Kingsport Police Detective Daniel Horne said.

The Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Team in Sullivan County met officially for the first time last month.

“The first meeting was very successful with not being solely focus from a law enforcement aspect and seeing the different sides of the investigation,” Horne said.

At the first official meeting the team went through 47 cases.

“Without opening the lines of communications between the agencies there were cases that could have fallen through the cracks,” Hinkle said.

“We didn’t know what they were doing, what they had already done, what they could do. Another big benefit is knowing what’s out there, what’s available to help us investigate these allegations and protect these adults,” Horne said.

In addition to the new team, District Attorney General Barry Staubus said he is hoping for legislation this year that helps bring justice for these cases, “That will strengthen the laws that punish the wrongdoers and also laws that will consolidate the statute just to make it more efficient,” Staubus said.

The team will meet monthly in Sullivan County, hoping to make strides in protecting vulnerable adults.

Staubus said the new program has lead to more cases reported which is an improvement, but has significantly increased the D.A.’s office’s work load. So he said he is also asking the legislature for additional positions and resources to help effectively pursue these cases.

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