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Home-Care Manager Held Faultless in Attack : Jury Denies Damages to Woman Stabbed by Fellow Resident of Facility for Mentally Disabled

Times Staff Writer

A jury on Tuesday found the manager of a private home care center blameless in the brutal stabbing of a mentally disabled woman by a psychotic fellow resident at the Santa Ana facility. Refuting charges of negligence against the home’s management for failing to anticipate and prevent the attack in 1982, the Santa Ana Superior Court jury refused to award any damages to Gayle A. Bohmert, 33, who is now living in Missouri.

Virginia Harris, manager of the home, said she hopes the verdict may help restore an image of home-care providers that has been tarnished recently by the alleged mass murders at a Sacramento home and by other negative publicity.

‘I’m Just So Happy’

In tears after the verdict was announced, Harris said: “I’m just so happy, because I know I was never negligent to these people.

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“I took care of them. I respected them just like my own family. And this shows that not all care providers are bad,” Harris said.

But Bohmert’s attorney called the jury’s decision “a drastic error” and said that, beyond the interests of Gayle Bohmert, “this is a terrible defeat for the handicapped and disabled population in general.”

The attorney, Lawrence S. Eisenberg, argued in the course of an 8-day trial before Judge Claude M. Owens that licensed residential homes must be held accountable for the level of supervision over their residents.

Harris was negligent in those duties, Eisenberg argued, because she failed to adequately investigate the backgrounds of her residents and ignored telltale signs that Bohmert’s attacker, a psychotic woman named Evelyn La Cour, was potentially violent. She also left unsecured a 13-inch butcher knife used in the attack, he alleged.

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At the time of the attack in October, 1982, Bohmert had been living for just a month at the since-closed residential home for mentally and physically disabled people on North Cooper Street in Santa Ana.

Delusions, Jealousy Alleged

While watching television, Bohmert was attacked by La Cour, a diagnosed schizophrenic psychotic who reportedly experienced sexual delusions and jealousy connected to Bohmert and a man at the home.

Harris and her attorneys countered the Bohmert family’s claims of negligence by saying that there was nothing she or other personnel at the home could have done to anticipate or avoid the attack.

Eisenberg said he was “surprised and obviously disappointed” by the decision.

The attorney attributed the verdict to the jury’s misunderstanding of a licensed care provider’s role in supervising patients. “There was clearly a responsibility to do more than what (Harris) did--which was nothing.”

Bohmert, diagnosed as having chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, is said to have suffered from severe anxiety and agitation since the attack. Because of her uncertain mental state, Bohmert did not testify during the trial. Her family declined Tuesday to comment on the verdict.

Eisenberg said the family is considering an appeal.

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