A Berkeley mother and daughter are facing two felony counts in Alameda County Superior Court after authorities say, over the course of three years, they stole from a nearly 80-year-old relative to pay their bills, and almost killed the woman by failing to keep up with her health needs.
Renee Jackson, 54, and her 25-year-old daughter Chanay Jackson were charged last week by the Alameda County district attorney’s office with elder abuse that endangered the health of Erma Jean Jackson, Renee’s mother, and theft and embezzlement from an elder or dependent adult exceeding $950. Authorities said the abuse took place between August 2011 and August 2014.
According to court papers, Renee Jackson, a phone operator, was her mother’s official caregiver, while Chanay was in charge of her grandmother’s finances. Both women had access to Erma Jean’s checking account.
The case initially came to the attention of authorities when Adult Protective Services began to receive reports of physical and financial abuse or neglect, Berkeley Police Detective Alexander McDougall wrote in court documents. As of December 2012, there had been at least five reports involving the family.
Early that month, Erma Jean Jackson was taken from her West Berkeley home on Page Street by ambulance to the hospital after she exhibited what her daughter described as “all of a sudden deteriorating health,” McDougall wrote.
When she was admitted to the hospital, the 77-year-old woman was suffering from pneumonia, sepsis and ulcers, according to a document completed by Berkeley Police Officer Jesse Grant. She had extreme dehydration, and was malnourished and hypothermic, with a body temperature of 84 degrees.
After admittance, Erma Jean stopped breathing, but health workers were able to revive her using CPR, wrote Grant.
There were also signs that she had been left in an unchanged diaper for at least two days. (Renee Jackson told authorities she had been diligent about changing her mother’s undergarments and cleaning those areas twice a day.)
Grant wrote that there was a clear record of canceled or missed medical appointments, as well as “a long history of various hospitals and care facilities attempting to contact or deal with [Renee] Jackson around medical decisions” related to her mother’s health.
According to Grant, Renee Jackson often failed to answer her phone or meet with medical personnel, and refused to deal with medical decisions, despite being her mother’s caregiver.
There were also financial indiscretions, according to authorities. Both women had access to Erma Jean Jackson’s Bank of America account, where she received about $3,300 monthly in pension and social security payments.
“The account showed dozens of debits each month, which appeared to be consistent with patterns of everyday spending at restaurants, salons, grocery stores, and gas stations. There was a recurring monthly payment for a MetroPCS phone bill,” wrote McDougall.
The officer also saw “many charges” at a CVS store in El Cerrito, and ultimately learned that Chanay Jackson worked in the pharmacy there.
McDougall said it appeared Chanay Jackson was using her grandmother’s retirement income “to pay for almost all the mundane expenses of her [own] life.” At the time of those charges, Erma Jean was living in a nursing home, but her bills were not being paid out of her checking account.
[Update, Aug. 28: Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said via email after publication that “minimal payments” were being made for Erma Jean Jackson’s care. As of September, one facility was owed more than $20,000. Around that time, Jackson was sent to the hospital and then to a second care facility, which was owed more than $3,000 as of June.]
“I did not find evidence from Victim’s checking statements that any of the money received from her SSI or pension benefits went to pay the expenses of her care,” McDougall wrote in court papers from earlier this month. “Instead it appears Chanay used this money to buy herself snacks at work, as well as to pay for cellphones, gas, restaurant meals, and other daily expenses.”
According to those documents, police arrested Chanay Jackson at the CVS on Aug. 15. During a police interview the following day, the officer “confronted her” with the bank statements. Jackson admitted to having used the money, according to McDougall.
“She said she knew it was wrong to use Victim’s money for herself,” he wrote. “She said she just fell into the habit of paying for cable and other bills” at the family home “even though Victim wasn’t there, and the adults living there should have paid their own household expenses. Chanay said she knew she should have nipped it in the bud, but she failed to act, even though she knew it was wrong.”
Both women were charged by the Alameda County district attorney’s office Aug. 18. If convicted, they are eligible to receive state prison sentences.
Renee Jackson, who was arrested Aug. 15 in West Berkeley, was scheduled for further pre-trial Aug. 27 at 11 a.m. at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Department 115 in downtown Oakland. She is being held at Santa Rita Jail with a bail of $100,000.
Chanay Jackson is being held at Santa Rita Jail on $25,000 bail. She is set for preliminary examination, where a judge will determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to move forward, Sept. 2 at Wiley Manuel at 8:30 a.m. in Department 112.
Update, Aug. 28: Police spokeswoman Coats clarified after publication that Erma Jean Jackson was in the hospital or in a care facility during the duration of the police investigation: “It took a considerable amount of time to obtain the … data needed to show possible financial abuse. Regarding the physical abuse portion of the case, we needed assistance from an Entomologist who has forensic expertise in the Bay area. This was an important element of the investigation to move forward with being able to make the physical abuse portion of the case chargeable. The investigators worked hard to ensure a strong case for elder abuse was presented to the DA’s office for charging.”
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