Michael Noland had to grieve the loss in 2006 of his friend, a developmentally disabled woman under his care in a state-operated facility.
A year later, Noland was charged with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of 52-year-old Kathleen Smith, who had a seizure and drowned in a bathtub at Lakeland Village Nursing Facility in Medical Lake after Noland left her alone.
The case could have put the 49-year-old Noland in prison for up to 10 years. But a jury Thursday acquitted him after a couple of hours of deliberation.
With tears in his eyes, Noland let out a sigh.
“I’m just glad that it’s over,” Noland said as he hugged his attorney, assistant public defender Steve Heintz, and promptly left the courthouse.
Heintz said the case never should have landed in criminal court.
“I know how he feels. We both feel relieved, happy and grateful the jury saw it our way, which was the correct way,” he said.
Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Patrick Johnson argued that Noland knew Smith had a history of seizures and had been warned never to leave her alone. He pointed out that Noland had signed paperwork spelling out that he must remain an arm’s length from her while she bathed.
“He is not being prosecuted because he tortured her,” Johnson said. “He’s being prosecuted because he was responsible to watch her to make sure she doesn’t have a seizure.”
But Heintz said Smith had not had a seizure for 17 years and Noland had not been informed by medical staff that they had reduced her seizure medication. Heintz said Smith was one of the higher-functioning residents at the care facility and had often exited the bathtub on her own. He also told the jury that Noland’s fellow care providers had complained about staffing levels that fell below federal guidelines.On the day Smith died, March 21, 2006, Noland was trying to monitor two other residents and intercede in a heated argument between co-workers that Noland believed could have grown violent.
“The management knew for a long time that there was a staffing problem,” Heintz said, “and Michael was being held up as the fall guy.”
Will Ash, the residential service coordinator at Lakeland Village, said late Thursday that he could not comment about allegations made by Heintz at the trial.
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