A registered nursing assistant has lost his license for at least seven years after allegations surfaced that he physically abused a Kennewick patient with cerebral palsy.
James O. Dickerson Jr., 55, has denied the accusations and is fighting four counts of assault in Benton County District Court.
However, he failed to respond to the Washington Department of Health’s investigation in the allotted time when his license initially was suspended April 24 for unprofessional conduct.
A state review officer noted that they considered both the vulnerability of the 25-year-old patient and Dickerson’s lack of past disciplinary record before issuing the final suspension on July 18.
Dickerson, who lives in Richland, must wait seven years and pay a $5,000 fine before seeking reinstatement of his license. He has been free on his personal recognizance since shortly after his arrest.
Dickerson was caught March 14 on surveillance video punching his patient in the lower abdomen, striking the man’s legs and hitting him in the face, according to court documents.
He had been the man’s paid evening caregiver for about nine years.
The patient is a survivor of shaken baby syndrome and cannot walk, see or speak. He is completely dependent on in-home caregivers. His mother installed video cameras in her home in late 2017 after she became concerned with Dickerson’s changing moods.
Kennewick city attorneys first charged Dickerson with one count of simple assault, a gross misdemeanor.
The case was amended in July to seven counts, reflecting what prosecutors said was seven distinct assaults on the victim by Dickerson.
The alleged actions, taken from video clips in police evidence, were described as: thrusts to his abdomen; a rough diaper change; slamming legs while changing his diaper; slamming his shoulder; rough face wiping; hitting him with a hairbrush; and rough hair brushing.
Dickerson’s lawyer, Brian Gieszler, moved to have five of the counts dismissed, saying the videos don’t provide evidence of those alleged assaults.
Dickerson “is gentle and appropriate in his handling” of the patient and is using the appropriate amount of force when changing the man’s diaper or cleaning him, Gieszler said.
Assistant City Attorney Camille Gonzalez responded that under the Kennewick Municipal Code for assault, it is not necessary that bodily injury like bruising or marks be inflicted.
Dickerson’s actions qualified as harmful or offensive touching and involved more force than was necessary.
“Due to (the patient’s) inability to speak, it is difficult if not impossible for (him) to convey that he has been harmed or that he is fearful of sustaining bodily harm,” Gonzalez said.
“... The defendant’s assertion that (the patient) was not harmed or fearful of bodily harm simply due to his inability to communicate what he was feeling when (Dickerson) assaulted him is offensive, and quite possibly, incorrect.”
The prosecutor asked to let a jury review the evidence and decide if Dickerson’s actions can be considered assault under the law.
At a hearing earlier this month, Judge Terry Tanner dismissed the three counts related to a rough diaper change and hair brushing, and shoulder slamming.
Tanner ruled the charges involving the leg slamming during a diaper change and rough face wiping can continue.
The defense did not address the two allegations of abdominal thrusts or hitting with a hairbrush.
Dickerson does not yet have a trial date on the four remaining assault charges. A pretrial hearing is next week.