The public first learned last August of the suspicious deaths at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Hospital in Clarksburg. Since then, information has continued to filter out. Here are some of the basics that we know:
—The VA Office of the Inspector General, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia are investigating the suspicious deaths of 10 or 11 veterans at the hospital.
—A pattern has developed in the deaths: heavy doses of insulin that were not prescribed sent patients into diabetic shock that led to their deaths.
—Autopsies that have become public have deemed the deaths as suspicious and, in some cases, homicide.
—Authorities have identified a “person of interest,” a nursing assistant who worked in Unit 3A where patients were being treated. The hospital has fired her.
—The investigation has been ongoing for almost a year and a half.
—Six of the victims have been identified. The most recent was last week when the children of Russ Posey, a 92-year-old Navy veteran, said their father was among the victims.
With these known facts, inevitably the question arises, why hasn’t this “person of interest” been arrested?
Bill Powell, the U.S Attorney for the Northern District, told me on Talkline last week that it’s just not that simple.
“It’s not really clear as a bell. If it’s that easy, we would have already done it,” Powell said. “It’s important for us to do it right. People do have rights, everybody has those rights and until we have a case that we’re ready to move forward on, we can’t arrest somebody.”
He said there is a danger of acting too quickly and jeopardizing the case. Powell said the deliberate pace does not mean investigators are dragging their feet.
“Outside of the families, nobody has an interest in ending this whole thing more than I do. The FBI is still actively investigating the case, as is the OIG,” he said. “Progress is being made, but it’s a complicated case, and we are doing everything that we need to be doing.”
Powell said everyone involved in the investigation feels the pressure, but also the responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation “We’re not going to arrest or indict anybody until we’re convinced we have a case that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Powell is correct. Investigators must build an airtight case. The information released so far leads to a nefarious act by this person of interest. However, it does not take much for a single juror to find reasonable doubt, especially in a complicated case where there may be no eyewitnesses, an obscure motive or, as in this case, victims with co-morbidities.
Just imagine if investigators are unable to hold anyone accountable for the deaths of these veterans. That would be a major legal failure as well as a painful blow to the families of those men.
It’s natural to be impatient, and this investigation does seem to be taking an inordinate amount of time, but it is critical to get this right.