Beaufort News

Ex-employee slapped, yelled at elderly women in Hilton Head assisted-living facility

Sonia King
Sonia King

A caregiver charged last week with abusing three elderly women at a Hilton Head Island assisted-living facility slapped two of them and threatened to choke the third during her morning rounds Dec. 31, arrest warrants allege.

During their investigation, Beaufort County sheriff's deputies learned Sonia King had been reported to her employer, Carolina House, for earlier incidents, a sheriff's spokeswoman said Wednesday.

King, 41, of Estill, was charged Jan. 13 with three counts of abuse of a vulnerable adult. She was fired Jan. 10 from Carolina House at 35 Beach City Road, said a spokeswoman for Brookdale Senior Living, the Tennessee-based company that operates the assisted-living facility.

Between 5 and 6:30 a.m. during King's shift Dec. 31, a co-worker saw King slap a 93-year-old woman and force the woman to smell her own excrement, according to arrest warrants. The same co-worker saw King hit a 70-year-old Alzheimer's patient on the right side of her face, causing her cheek to swell, and King told the patient "to shut up" and called her crazy, the warrants said.

The co-worker also alleged that King yanked a 79-year-old Alzheimer's patient out of bed by her arms, undressed her, placed toothpaste on a washcloth and then washed the patient's private parts with the toothpaste, according to the warrants.

King then threatened to "choke the patient out" if she attempted to stop her, according to the warrants.

Each woman received medical treatment after the alleged incidents, and none suffered life-threatening injuries, according to a Sheriff's Office news release.

The investigation began after Carolina House executive director Rhoneda Maury told deputies Dec. 31 that an employee saw King physically and verbally assault patients during her rounds that morning, according to the Sheriff's Office release. The reporting employee also recorded the Dec. 31 incidents on an audio device she had been carrying with her, the release said.

King was suspended from her job pending an investigation, according to the Sheriff's Office.

She was arrested Jan. 13 after she turned herself in. She was released Friday from the Beaufort County Detention Center after posting a $45,000 bond set by a county magistrate judge, according to court records.

If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison for each of the three counts, according to 14th Circuit Court Solicitor's Office spokesman Daniel Brownstein.

This was not the first time King had been accused of verbally assaulting patients, sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh said Wednesday.

An employee reported to Carolina House administration several weeks before the Dec. 31 incidents that King had verbally abused a patient, McIntosh said.

The incident was not reported to the Sheriff's Office, McIntosh said.

Sheriff's investigators also learned King may have been involved in a similar incident in 2008. In that case, a state agency was notified and King was suspended, but later reinstated, McIntosh said. The Sheriff's Office was not notified of that incident, she said.

Attempts Wednesday to reach Brookdale Senior Living officials, Maury and King were unsuccessful.

The Sheriff's Office continues to investigate whether King assaulted other patients during her employment, the release said. It was unclear how long she had worked at Carolina House.

Holly Botsford, a spokeswoman for Brookdale Senior Living, wrote in an e-mail Jan. 13 that the company began an internal investigation when it learned of the allegations and fired King on Jan. 10.

Botsford wrote that before King was hired, she went through reference and background checks and underwent a drug test, none of which raised concerns.

According to the company's website, Brookdale operates more than 565 senior assisted-living and retirement facilities across the country.

King has not been charged with any other crimes in South Carolina, according to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division.