A former caregiver at a Hilton Head Island assisted-living facility pleaded guilty Monday to three counts of abusing her elderly patients, according to the 14 Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office.
Sonia Shereen King, 42, of Estill was sentenced by Judge Michael Nettles to 18 months in prison, to be followed by a year of probation, Solicitor's Office spokesman Daniel Brownstein said.
King, charged Jan. 13 with three counts of abuse of a vulnerable adult, was fired Jan. 10 from Carolina House at 35 Beach City Road, according to a spokeswoman for Brookdale Senior Living, the Tennessee-based company that operates the facility.
The investigation began after then Carolina House executive director Rhoneda Maury told deputies another employee saw King physically and verbally assault at least three female patients during her rounds the morning of Dec. 31, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
Between 5 and 6:30 a.m. during King's shift, the co-worker saw King slap a 93-year-old woman and force her to smell her own excrement. 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, according to arrest warrants.
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 incidents, and none suffered life-threatening injuries, according to the Sheriff's Office.
The reporting employee also recorded the incidents on an audio device she had been carrying with her, according to a Sheriff's Office report.
Holly Botsford, company spokeswoman, wrote in an email Jan. 13 that the company began an internal investigation when it learned of the allegations.
King was set to face trial this week, Brownstein said. If convicted, she could have been sentenced to as many as five years in prison for each count.
In April and June, an attorney with McNair Law Firm on Hilton Head filed separate notices of intent to sue King and Brookdale on behalf of the three victims, according to Beaufort County court documents. Those cases are pending, the documents say.
According to the company's website, Brookdale operates more than 565 senior assisted-living and retirement centers across the country.
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Related content:1. Ex-employee slapped, yelled at elderly women in Hilton Head assisted-living facility, Jan. 19, 20112. Woman accused of abusing patients at Hilton Head nursing home, January 13, 2011