A Washington caregiver charged in connection with the 2019 poisoning death of a developmentally disabled woman has been acquitted of felony assault.
Fikirte T. Aseged mistakenly gave a deadly dosage of cleaning vinegar instead of colonoscopy prep medicine to her 64-year-old client Marion Wilson, who later died.
Aseged worked at Aacres, an assisted living facility in Spokane, Washington, that is now closed. She was fired on April 19, 2019.
Spokane County Superior Court Judge Harold Clarke rendered his verdict this week through an Ethiopian language interpreter, according to Northwest News Network.
"This was a tragedy. It should not have happened," Clarke said announcing the acquittal.
The judge said that Aseged’s actions met the definition of criminal negligence, but he couldn’t find the vinegar was wielded as a weapon — a requirement for conviction based on a previous Supreme Court finding.
Clarke also noted that when Aseged gave Wilson the vinegar, she was 13 hours into a 16-hour double-shift.
"The court is restrained by the reasoning of the Supreme Court and I will follow what I believe to be that reasoning in this case," Clarke said.
Aseged, who waived her right to a jury trial, was charged last year by the Washington state Attorney General’s office. According to the investigation, Aseged confused the bottle of vinegar with the bottle of GoLYTELY solution when she and another caregiver awakened Wilson at 3 a.m. to take the second half of her prep medication.
The next morning at her colonoscopy appointment, Wilson started having difficulty breathing and died in an emergency room. An autopsy determined that the cleaning-strength vinegar had inflamed and killed the tissue in Wilson’s esophagus, stomach and small bowel, resulting in her death.
Aseged gave Wilson the vinegar around 3 a.m., and the victim died around 10:15 a.m.
"I assumed it was the same … I just grabbed the bottle, I was rushing," Aseged told state investigators.
According to the judge, Wilson had a cognitive level similar to that of a young child and would generally follow the direction of her caregivers.
At the time of the incident, Aseged told investigators she had not read the directions for the colonoscopy medication, which were written on the whiteboard in Wilson’s unit. However, she said she had read the written instructions from the doctor.
Aseged told investigators she read the label on the colonoscopy preparation solution before giving Wilson her first dose, but she did not for the 3 a.m. dose, assuming it was the same bottle.
An investigation by the state Department of Social and Health Services found that Aacres had failed to take a number of steps to protect Wilson. It also found that 18 Aacres employees didn’t immediately report Wilson’s death as required by law. The state has since cancelled its contracts with Aacres to serve clients in Spokane County, Washington.
Aacres, which still operates elsewhere in the state, is in the process of being sold to a Minnesota-based company.
"Ms. Aseged is grateful for the Court’s verdict and appreciates the well-reasoned ruling," Asseged's attorn Derek Reid announced. "This was a tragedy, but not a crime."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.