The growing number of elder abuse cases across North Georgia was labeled a “Silver Tsunami” by GBI Special Agent Heath Strickland.
The agent was one of many law enforcement officers who spoke Wednesday at a meeting of the North Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force at the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Rome.
Law enforcement and state officials from Dalton to Dahlonega and even neighboring Alabama met to start what they want to be a collaborative, multi-jurisdictional effort to deal with the issue.
Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson said that Floyd County has prosecuted 112 cases of elder abuse between January 2010 and June 30 of this year.
“We’re approaching numbers that are close to Atlanta,” Patterson said.
During that time frame, Chattooga County prosecuted four cases, Gordon County 10, Bartow County 33 and Polk County 27. Cobb County has had 263 cases over the past six and a half years.
Gwinnett County led the state with 517 cases over the same time frame, followed by Chatham with 271, DeKalb with 311, Houston with 308, Cobb with 263, Laurens with 160 and Clarke with 140, then Floyd County.
“We see this as an epidemic,” said Lyndie Freeman, a special prosecutor in the Georgia Attorney General’s office.
“We’re where we were (in the prosecutorial attention) with children’s cases 20 years ago,” said Jason Marbutt, a prosecutor in the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office. Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn said he believes the effort to deal with the problem is gaining momentum. “We’re doing a better job,” Flynn said.
Joe Gavalis, the coordinator for the new task force, explained that financial abuse makes up almost 70 percent of elder abuse and exploitation cases investigated across the state, with physical and institutional abuse making up the remainder of cases.
Floyd County police investigator Rusty Williams detailed an investigation in Floyd County where a 63-year-old woman suffering from cancer was bilked out of more than $200,000 over a six-year period. That case led authorities to Roswell where at least one other victim of the same two perpetrators was found. Williams said the dollar figure for both victims could top $2 million. Both suspects are now being housed in the Fulton County Jail.
Gavalis described a case where the perpetrator took four checks out of the back of a victim’s checkbook and cashed them for approximately $15,000.
Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she needs input from all of the agencies in a bid to make prosecution easier and sentences tougher for those who would exploit the elderly.
“This continues to grow and mushroom in a scary fashion,” Dempsey said.