by Jessica Smith
Some of you may remember that I disappeared for lack of a better word from October of 2015 to March of 2016. I’m happy that I can finally speak up and tell my story.
My name is Jessica and I have a disability called Cerebral Palsy (CP)I am wheelchair bound, can’t walk and I require assistance with simple every day tasks. After losing both my parents in a period of two years, I was placed into a group home after my mother passed away in 2015. I had never been a fan of group homes, from my prospective their were way too many rules early curfews, no drinking, not to mention living with five other girls and dealing with the daily drama. While living at the facility I met a staff member by the name of . we seemed to hit it off, and to have a lot of similar interests . I informed Tamberly that I would be receiving an inheritance from my parents estate. Yes that was my first mistake. After talking for a bit I then met her boyfriend Josel who was an EMT. The three of us started hanging out pretty frequently, we would go swimming, go to the movies , they even took me to Disneyland. Not long after I met her she confided in me that they were living at her boyfriends parents house. Tamberly, Josel and their dog all living in a bedroom. We then started talking about all of us getting an apartment together. Tam liked the idea because she wanted to get their own place and I liked the idea because it would give me a chance to have a “normal “ life and get out of the group home. Tamberly said if we moved in together she would be my caregiver and Josel would help when he was able. Tamberly said we would split all the bills 3 ways. She basically painted a beautiful picture and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. My friends and family told me not to do this on numerous occasions but I stupidly decided not to listen to them. In October of 2015 the 3 of us moved into an apartment together after only knowing Tamberly for 2 months. My uncle even loaned us money so that we could get the apartment. Since I cannot swipe a card or enter a pin number on my own I gave Tamberly my debit card and pin number but I told her it was only to be used to help pay my portion of the bills, medical expenses, doctor visits, Prescription co-pays etc. I receive over $1.000 monthly so that would help with my portion of my bills and stuff.
The first few months were fine in January when I received the money from the sale of my family home which was $80,000 things started to go badly. She took my phone kept it in her possession and when I asked for it she would say it was broken, that also meant that I couldn’t contact anyone and she made it extremely hard for family and friends to contact or visit me. “I am the only one who really cares about you “ Tamberly would say. She also started putting a straw in a NyQuil bottle and forcing me to drink it until she said stop, she said it will make me sleep better, or on the rare occasion she gave me a shower she enjoyed spraying water in my face and then laughing at me when I would freak out because I didn’t like it.
The food portions were fine In the beginning but, I noticed they started to get smaller and smaller and then she showed me an application on her phone saying that with my height age and disability I was overweight and I needed to eat less. It got to a point where I was lucky if I got a granola bar.
She would leave me alone at the house with her dog and no phone for several hours at a time with me I just laying in the bed saying she “had to run errands but she would be right back” but there was no telling when she would actually return.
It was just easier for her to put me in adult diapers because she could just leave me in soiled diapers and she would just change me when ever she was home or felt like it. She even limited the amount of water she gave me on a daily basis pretty much just giving me small sips of water with medication.
On the rare occasion she would take me to an appointment she would not let me speak. She would tell the doctor that I was consuming more than 6 pain pills a day and that I needed a refill. (Morphine Norco Percocet etc. When the truth was I’d be lucky to get 1 or 2 a day. I truly believe she was taking the rest. She would get very upset if we didn’t leave with more pain medication.
The fact of the matter is I would be lucky if she gave me my medicine on a daily basis I take a variety of pills and one of those is to keep my Leukemia in remission. She would give me my medicine when she felt like it, sometime I would not receive any medication for days at a time. She also refused to turn me at night which caused me to get a blood clot in my leg and I now have to be on a blood thinner medication for the rest of my life. The doctors can’t say for sure that Tamberly not turning me at night caused the blood clot but I never had one in 28 years of my life but when I was in her care I developed one so, I’ll let you decide
The mental games she played were horrible saying things like “Nobody cares about you if they did they would visit” You are too much work” You better stay with me or you’ll end up back in a faculty” “You are a piece of shit” The list goes on.
I remember one day she had left again and I was laying in bed it was just me and the dog. I remember thinking to myself “Something is going to have to change or I am going to die”
(March 2016) Tamberly wanted some more pain medication again so thank god she decided to take me to see my orthopedic surgeon who I’ve known since I was a teenager. When he saw me he was shocked! My normal weight is 80lbs when he put me on the scale I weighed only 40lbs that’s half my normal weight. My doctor asked her why in the world I was so skinny and also so dirty to which Tamberly had no answers.
Tamberly would not let me speak so my doctor put me in the X-Ray room where only he and I could be. He asked me if she was feeding me and all I could do was shake my head no. We both knew at that point that I was in very bad shape and we needed to come up with a plan to get me out of Tamberly’s care safely. The doctor told Tamberly that something was going on with my back and that she needed to bring me to the hospital in the morning so that I could be admitted so he could do some tests. I wasn’t sure if she was actually going to bring me back in so while I was alone with him I gave him my address. He told me to try my best to act normal but I was scared to death. I was afraid she would figure out that she got caught and then who knows what she would have done. That night was hell but thank god she didn’t catch on.
(The next morning as soon as Tamberly left the hospital property, they moved me to a different room, put me under a completely different name and then the police and my family and friends were called
At this point I literally had nothing except my wheelchair and the clothes I was wearing. Tamberly still had my vehicle, ID, and debit card not to mention all of my possessions were at the apartment.
When I was first reunited with my family and friends I told them the hell I had been through for the past 6 months and I just burst into tears. They were shocked at how bad I looked. I have amazing friends and family as soon as they could they had the police in my hospital room interviewing me; we canceled the bank card and everything else Tamberly had access to.
When we were able to get ahold of my bank account records everyone was in shock. I received the $80,000 in early January 2016, when we reviewed my bank account I only had $20,000 left which means she spent over $60,000 in a period of 3 months!
While I was in the hospital we had to retrain my stomach on how to accept food, my stomach had become so small every time I would try to eat I would get sick because my stomach didn’t even remember what food was, that took a few days, We also realized my kidneys were full of stones and I had to have surgery to remove them. The hospital stay is pretty foggy for me, which is probably a good thing honestly. Friends and family retrieved my belongings from the apartment and my phone that had supposedly been “broken” according to Tamberly magically worked just fine! The interior of the van was full of garbage, clothes, old drinks and stains galore so 2 friends gave it a complete clean up. I was in the hospital for over a month making sure I gained back a good amount of weight and correcting all the other issues caused by her neglect.
(May 2016) After being in the hospital for almost one month I was placed in a seniors board and Care facility. This was only temporary until I got approved from Regional Center to get accepted into a Supported Living agency and find my own apartment. If the fact that I only had $20,000.00 left to my name wasn’t enough, this facility was $4400.00 a month out of my own pocket. My roommate was a sweet elderly woman. She had Sundowners Syndrome, basically we had ajoining rooms and she would crawl into my room in the middle of the night, wake me up and say “We have to get out of here they are going to kill us” The very annoying birds that would never stop chirping and they were placed in the visiting area. (If you were planning on getting me a pet bird no thanks I’ll pass). I tried very hard to keep my sense of humor. During my time there I was interviewed by another detective from the police department and the case was then given to the district Attorney’s Office for review to see if there was enough evidence to press charges. I then began calling the DA.s office about once a week but they just kept saying they had a lot of evidence to go through and it was going to take awhile to make a decision. Thank god for all of my family and friends who came and visited me and took me out places to keep me from going crazy.
After a very long 4 months in the facility I finally got approved by the Regional Center to go into a Supportive Living Program. Thanks to some very special people I was able to move into a cute little place in East County, that was already furnished and decorated by my amazing family friends; in August of 2017.
After moving into my own place I discovered that in order to get Gas & Electric turned on at my new residence I had to pay off the gas and electric bill at the old apartment where Tamberly, Josel and I lived because they put the service in my name and racked up quite the bill. If that wasn’t enough they also put the cable bill in my name as well without my knowledge. Not to mention Tamberly wouldn’t let me off the apartment lease so now all 3 of us are in collections for unpaid rent and damages to the apartment in the amount of $2,700.00. Not only did she take my money and try to starve me to death she also put large bills in my name and wrecked my credit.
On November 22nd 2016 I received a phone call from the District Attorney’s with the news I had been waiting for, they charged Tamberly with 2 felony counts the first charge was Financial Abuse Of A Dependent Adult and the 2nd charge was Physical Abuse Of A Dependent Adult with intent to cause Great Bodily Injury Or Death. A warrant was then issued for her arrest
It took a while for the authorities to find Tamberly and bring her into court almost 2 months after the warrant was issued. Finally on January 26th 2017 my support team and I faced Tamberly in court for the first time as she entered a plea of Not Guilty and the case moved forward
I decided a long time ago that I was not going to be the silent victim without a face or name. To be fair as a victim you are not required to show up for all the court dates, but I made a promise to myself that I was going to show up for every single one and I did. Tamberly however did not take the court dates as seriously in fact we had to reschedule several dates due to a doctors appointment, her back hurting too much, surgery, traffic, or the best one, she forgot she had court. She never faced any consequences though so that’s just our fine justice system at work.
On June 27th 2017 we had the Preliminary Hearing where my family and friends gathered in the courtroom as I faced Tamberly and testified against her and answered a bunch of questions from the District Attorney and Tamberly’s Defense Attorney. It was incredibly hard to have to relive those 6 months while having my character and every second of those 6 months picked apart. At least that’s what it felt like to me. Not to mention having to watch Tamberly roll her eyes, shake her head, or writing notes in a book as she visibly disagreed with all of my answers. I was shocked and saddened when she didn’t even attempt to show an ounce of remorse. After I testified for about an hour or more I was asked to leave the courtroom so that the detective could testify to the financial matters and poor health conditions via a statement from my orthopedic surgeon who removed me from her care. I was not allowed to hear the testimony because we did not want to take the chance of messing up the integrity of the case. After all the testimony was completed I was allowed back into the courtroom. The defense attorney then made his argument to the judge “Ms Donato just got in over her head and was not in a position to properly care for Ms. Smith” (Remember Tamberly was my caretaker in the group home long before I moved out with her, she knew exactly the amount of care I required) The judge then asked the Defense where $60,000 went in a period of 3 months to which the attorney replied “It’s easy to spend that amount of money on food and living expenses” (I guess I must not have realized we lived in a mansion and not a 2 bedroom apartment) He then asked the judge to reduce the charges to misdemeanors. Lucky the judge saw through the arguments and kept the charges as felonies.
As to the bank records I was in shock when I saw how much money she spent without my knowledge. She transferred $8,000 from my account to her father Leonard Donato who I think I might have met twice (I guess I’m just a very generous person ). She also spent $4,986.00 on food , which amazes me considering she rarely ever fed me and got me down to half my weight I hope she enjoyed her shopping sprees at Best Buy, Walmart and Target where she spent $17,153.00. Since she had my credit card she also helped herself to $34,575.00 via direct transfers, ATM withdrawals and teller withdrawals. It sickens me to say this but she spent a total of $65,646.00 while she had access to my bank account (Which was only 6 months)
After everything happened the one thing that I knew for sure was I didn’t want Tamberly to be able to do this to anyone else ever again. After sitting down with some advisers in the District Attorney’s Office I learned a few things, one of which is there needs to be hasher laws for caregivers who break the law, so I am ready to do whatever I need to get done in order to get new legislation passed. The other thing they kept telling me was if we were to take this to trial it would only take 1 person to believe she’s not guilty and then she would get off.
I couldn’t bare the thought of her just getting off with nothing so I was told the best route to go was to do a plea deal where she would be convicted of a felony. I then presented them with some of my stipulations that I thought would be fair in this plea deal agreement. The first was that she served some jail time, have her caregivers license stripped, pay me back, and for her to enter a drug and alcohol rehab were just a few items on my list.
On October 10th 2017 We went back to count and Tamberly did plead guilty to a felony but, I was in complete shock when I was told that she got to pick the felony that she wanted to plead to!! She pled to the financial. (Of course that sounds better than pleading to physical abuse) If that wasn’t bad enough the DA, her defense attorney and the judge took jail time out of the plea agreement without my knowledge! They didn’t even bother to consult with me to see if I was okay with that decision.
On December 12, 2017 My family and friends showed up to support me as I addressed the court to give my victim impact statement to the judge and watch Tamberly get sentenced. There was only one problem Tamberly once again failed to show up and once again virtually got no consequences. Supposedly she had a doctors appointment.
On December 15, 2017 Tamberly showed up for her sentencing and my family and friends were by my side as I gave my victim impact statement. Tamberly said “She was sorry and she didn’t mean to do it” Tamberly was sentenced to 5 years felony probation and no jail time, instead she was given community service. They did tell her she needs to pay me back so the District Attorney asked her to pay me $35.00 a month to which her Defense Attorney replied “Ms Donato is on a fixed income and can’t work because of her back so $35.00 is too much. To this day I have not received a penny from her and when I try to ask the court system for help, they simply say that there’s nothing they can do to make her pay me.
Please understand I do not want your pity, I choose to tell my story because I want to make people aware that the sweetest looking people have the most venomous bites. I really do want to help create stronger legislation so that the next time someone gets hurt by their caregiver that person will actually face justice. Let’s all band together and put justice back in the justice system!