An Orange Grove Center employee faces criminal charges in connection with the death of a longtime patient, whose body was found inside a van in April, the Chattanooga Police Department said Thursday.
Cliftina Jones, 60, is charged with criminally negligent homicide in the death of Carrie Lee Parkey Jr., a 60-year-old man whom Orange Grove staff found dead around 3 p.m. in the back of a van at a group home on Lillian Court.
Jones — an employee who has been on administrative leave since the April 18 incident — was booked into the Hamilton County Jail on Thursday, police said. A grand jury returned the indictment after a special prosecutor took over the case. But details of Jones' alleged role in the crime were not immediately available.
Parkey, a mentally disabled client of the center since 1974, was picked up at his residence around 8 a.m. but marked absent at the group home that morning. An initial autopsy from the Hamilton County medical examiner's office later stated Parkey died of hyperthermia from exposure to high temperatures. His cause of death was marked "accidental," but police said Thursday the case has been reclassified as a homicide.
Criminally negligent homicide is a Class E felony that carries one to six years in prison. Records show Jones has no prior charges in Hamilton County's General Sessions or Criminal Court.
Heidi Hoffecker, spokeswoman for Orange Grove, said she expects Jones will be fired. The center, which serves about 1,000 people with educational programs, job training and health services, continues to mourn the loss of Parkey, she said.
"Ms. Jones, at the time of Mr. Parkey's death, was employed by Orange Grove Center," Hoffecker wrote in an email. "Since April 18, Ms. Jones has been on administrative leave without pay. The matter of her employment will be handled by our human resources department, but I expect her employment will be terminated."
Answers were scant after Parkey's death: Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston, a former president of the center's board of directors, said he had to recuse himself as the police investigation was wrapping up in October. Mike Taylor, district attorney general for the 12th Judicial District, took over the case and met with Chattanooga officers to review the evidence.
It's unclear when the grand jury met or heard the facts of Parkey's death. But in August, Parkey's family members sought answers in the form of a wrongful death and civil negligence lawsuit in Hamilton County Circuit Court. Orange Grove's attorneys tried to dismiss the claim right away, saying Parkey's team never gave a 60 days' heads up to medical providers before filing a "health-care liability action."
Records show Parkey's attorneys agreed to voluntarily dismiss the case in the middle of November. But attorney James Logan said Thursday the claim will be re-filed, "unless it is resolved sooner."
"[Parkey's] brother called me upon learning of the indictment and wished to express his appreciation to law enforcement for their hard work in ascertaining what transpired," Logan said. "He also believes the indictment is supportive of the claim which he has made."
A month after Parkey's death, the Times Free Press reported the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities investigated 210 allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation of Orange Grove clients since January 2012. Of those, allegations, 79 were substantiated by evidence.
Although more than a third of the department's investigations into Orange Grove employees were substantiated, that rate is only half the average seen from other providers of services and programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities statewide.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at email@example.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeter firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zack peterson918.