FARMINGTON — Even after his Alzheimer’s disease progressed so far that he could no longer talk, Richard Crossley could still work a room.
A new resident at a long-term care center, the 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran raced up and down hallways in his new wheelchair. He teased employees and others at Clearfield’s Chancellor Gardens, twisting his face into wacky expressions and drawing chuckles in winter of last year.
His family took part in the fun, visiting daily. But by springtime, they noticed a change. Crossley had stopped cracking jokes, his daughter Kellie Bingham observed. He was sleepy and withdrawn.
“My dad kept sinking deeper into a depression,” Bingham recalled Monday in Farmington’s 2nd District Court. “I blamed it on the progression of the disease.” Once an avid outdoorsman, her father could no longer dress, eat or bathe on his own.
Over the next few months, Bingham came to identify a different culprit.
When she tapped the arm of another resident who had dozed off at the dinner table one night, he jolted awake in terror and began to shake and sob, she recalled. The man’s daughter later reported he had died in the following days after vomiting blood. Bingham, a teacher trained to recognize signs of abuse, was alarmed.
On a different day, another resident who nodded off at the table awoke to “that same expression of panic and terror,” Bingham said. He told her he didn’t want to go to bed and asked her to stay with him, she recalled, before passing away the following day.
Finally, her father signaled his own pain. He took her hand and placed it on his chest in what she believed was a gesture of love. But he kept repeating the movement, eventually placing her palm under his shirt, revealing a deep purple circular bruise, she told a judge on Monday.
So one day after church in September, Bingham installed a security camera in her father’s room, setting in motion a criminal case that reached its conclusion Monday. A former Chancellor Gardens nursing assistant was sentenced to a year in jail for assaulting Crossley and another resident with Alzheimer's disease, a grandmother of 27 who died a little more than a month after she was transferred to a new facility last year.
Jason Harold Knox, 30, pleaded guilty last month to two counts of aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, second-degree felonies, part of a bargain with prosecutors. He was fired on Oct. 7, the same day Bingham reviewed the tape. She and employees summoned police to Chancellor Gardens Assisted Living, 1425 S. 1500 East.
Knox admitted to striking Crossley while changing his incontinence brief on Oct. 6, and to holding a stuffed animal to the man's face before hitting him in the pelvic region, court documents show. In exchange for his guilty pleas, two remaining counts of abusing a vulnerable adult were dismissed.
No video captured the abuse of the 89-year-old grandmother, identified in court documents as J.C., but Knox admitted throwing her on the bed and elbowing her in the torso, also on Oct. 6, court documents say.
Her husband of 65 years, Dallas Clark, fought tears as he urged 2nd District Judge Michael Edwards to impose the maximum sentence. He recalled finding bruises on her side and said she developed a limp and a fear of going to sleep, but Chancellor employees couldn’t explain the injuries. She had stopped speaking, but one night she clearly pleaded with him, saying “don’t leave me,” Clark recalled.
"This conduct is depraved and inexcusable and must never be repeated," Edwards told Knox shortly before reading his sentence.
However, the judge continued, Knox has no prior criminal record. A term in the Utah State Prison, the judge said, might "indirectly contribute" to making him a worse person. Edwards ordered a year in jail, four years of probation and a mental health evaluation. The judge suspended two concurrent prison sentences of one to 15 years.
Prosecutors had sought prison time. They played video in court of Knox striking Crossley as he lay in bed and released a muffled moan. Several family members cringed and turned their heads.
“He was preying on these victims who couldn’t speak out for themselves, who couldn’t protect themselves,” said assistant Utah attorney general Jacob Fordham. The case comes as Utah’s population ages, Fordham noted, and could stoke distrust of group homes meant to keep loved ones safe.
“People need to be able to trust our health care workers,” he said.
A shackled Knox apologized, saying “this behavior is not who I am,” and telling the judge he has taken classes on anger management and substance abuse while in jail.
Knox’s parents struggled with drug addiction, his attorney Richard Gale added, and at 25, his client found the body of his mother. He never addressed the trauma and “just shoved it down inside of him," Gale said. “I think he’s a redeemable person.”
Crossley attended the hearing in his wheelchair and in a plaid shirt with a blanket on his lap. He held a plush cow and did not speak. Though he doesn't remember the beatings, Bingham said, his fear remains. He gets anxious when it’s time to go to bed.
“I cannot explain to him that he is safe, because he does not know why he is afraid,” she said, saying she plans to push Utah's lawmakers to toughen laws on abuse of those in senior living. "He will never sleep peacefully through the night again."
Knox joined the Utah Nursing Assistant Registry in September 2007 and faced no disciplinary action before his license expired in 2013, said Donelle Ricketts, registry director. He began working at Chancellor Gardens in 2014 and stayed for a year and a half before returning in 2018, when he led managers to believe he had completed certification requirements, said Constance Sablan, a spokeswoman who MBK Senior Living, which owns the Clearfield facility.