9 people indicted in Gwinnett unlicensed care home case

Nine people accused of running unlicensed personal care homes for adults in Gwinnett County have been indicted by a grand jury.

Eight have been arrested and remained in Gwinnett County Jail Friday without bond. Among other things, they are accused of not making sure residents took their medicines and preventing some from having access to food.

They were swept up after a Dec. 2 raid of a dozen homes in the Snellville and Loganville area which followed a months-long investigation dubbed “Operation Mercury” into unlicensed homes. The operation began with the investigation into a single home in May. Following the investigation, 12 homes were shut down and residents were removed from the residences.

Between five to 10 people lived in each of the homes, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. Gwinnett police Cpl. Deon Washington said residents were living in “unsafe and unsupervised conditions and some have a diminished mental capacity.”

Investigators said they believe many residents had to use government assistance including Social Security benefits and food stamps to pay their rent.

The indicted are charged with exploitation of disabled adults, elder persons and residents.

Named in the indictment are: Donovan Ricardo Coward, Dawn Cicelia Walker, William J. Walker, Reggie Benard McKenzie, Jacqueline Pamela Mitchell, Neonard Precious Kumassah, Sasha Chantel Alphonso, Stefani Amoi Walker and Yulanda Natasha Walsh.

Attorney Jack Harrell called the crackdown “a witch hunt by the state.”

Harrell said the residences were peer support homes, not personal care homes. The resident service levels required for each type of home differ, he said.

He also said residents were not being taken advantage of financially and that they paid about $30 apiece per day for room and board.

For many years, illegally operating a personal care home was a misdemeanor. In 2014, the offense was elevated to a felony if there was also financial exploitation, neglect or abuse of residents. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation told The AJC last year it was going to crack down on the illegal homes.

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HOW TO FIND LICENSED FACILITIES: Go online to www.gamap2care.info to search for licensed facilities in Georgia. More than 7,000 facilities and services are included and can be searched by location and types of care.