Allegan County News & Union Enterprise

Grandson’s charged with abuse, death of Grandfather

Cory Nethery and Christopher Fitzhugh

By Gari Vos

In Michigan, elder abuse affects an estimated one of every 10 adults. The abuse falls in six major categories: physical abuse, psychological or verbal abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, financial exploitation, and neglect. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Aging and Adult Services Agency (ASA), this estimate is expected to rise as the elderly population continues to grow across the state.
The abuse most often occurs in private homes or long-term care facilities where the individuals involved know each other. Statistics show that abusers are most likely to be spouses, adult children, caregivers or friends. These individuals or teams often have a history of substance abuse, financial need or health problems.
A classic example came to a head on February 23, 2022 when Cory Nethery (24) and Christopher Fitzhugh (27) were charged with elder abuse and embezzlement of their grandfather, William Fitzhugh of Pullman, MI.
FOX 17 conducted a lengthy investigation into the situation when William was found by his son, Steven, on October 18, 2021. The elderly man was curled in a fetal position “on a bare mattress in a home with mountains of feces in the bathroom” because the toilet had not worked for years.
When William arrived at the hospital, he was extremely malnourished. An examination found that William had a broken hip, femur, multiple ribs, and nose plus a collapsed lung. Because of the extensive injuries, the doctors were unable to treat William’s renal cancer. William died on December 12, 2021.
Like many cases of elder abuse, this was not a single event. An examination of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Adult Protective Services (APS) division and the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office incident reports revealed that the departments had been informed numerous times regarding the abuse of William and his wife Eula by Cory and Christopher.
As with too many cases, even when the departments responded to the concerns, William would not press charges or admit that his grandsons had caused any problems for him. It was not until he was on his death bed that William admitted that the boys had beat him, would not feed him, and took money.
William and Eula’s son Steven Fitzhugh feels that the system did not provide the proper protection. Adult Protective Services believes their hands were tied. Multiple time, William refused assistance and claimed that Cory and Christopher were “good boys who were just having some problems.” Because William demonstrated “capacity for making his own decisions” and he denied any abuse, neglect or financial exploitation and declined services, no petition for guardianship could be filed that could move him away from the grandsons.
Fitzhugh’s children countered that there were signs of trouble and that the home was a health hazard. Follow-up to a complaint made on May 11, 2021, did not include a home visit. The written report stated that William was at a “low risk” of elder abuse.
As FOX dug deeper into FOIA paperwork, the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office did inform APS several times of problems. In addition, Cory and Christopher were arrested in the summer of 2021 for assaulting a law enforcement officer and abusing drugs. But the men were not charged with grandparent abuse, so the two were placed back in the grandparents’ home.
Several family members believe the system should have protected the elderly couple. On the other side of the coin some believe that the family should have protected this couple. The home should/could have been repaired and cleaned on a regular basis. The boys should have been held in check.
But the system seems broken. FOX 17 discovered six referrals to Adult Protective Services (APS). “Four reports made January 2017, March 2018, November 2018 and May of 2021 were all closed” because the couple refused services.
Myrene Koch, Allegan County Prosecuting Attorney, shared that this is not unusual. With domestic violence cases, victims often do not want to upset the abuser for a variety of reasons. A major reason is fear of being hurt or of being left without a caregiver. “This is frustrating because without the victim’s cooperation, it is difficult to build a case against the abuser(s).”
Where APS fell short was discovered in the May 11, 2021 referral. It was closed on June 9, 2021 with no reason listed. By June 14th, court records show Christopher Fitzhugh being arrested for assaulting a law enforcement officer.
On June 16th, October 17th and October 22nd, additional referrals were delivered to APS. APS made no in-person visit and no reason was given for closing the case, which meant that no investigations were conducted.
Move forward to October 29, 2021 when William finally admitted to being abused by his grandsons. Finally on November 15th, Cory and Christopher were charged with vulnerable adult abuse and embezzlement. But it was not until February 23, 2022, the day of William’s autopsy, that both Christopher and Cory were charged with felony murder connected to the death of their grandfather.
The identification of events and lack of action by APS and the sheriff’s department brought more questions than answers. Why had the grandsons been able to continue to have access to William and Eula Fitzhugh?
MDHHS stated that the laws are ambiguous. The auditor general disagreed. In an audit, the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) discovered that improvements must be made to the system. In the cases monitored, 38% of investigated cases showed moderate to high risk, but the cases were closed. 37% of the cases were open for more than 5 months. 29% were closed because the adult died. 20% were not handled within 24 hours as dictated by law.
In addition, the AGO found that those working in the Central Intake Division of the ADS were not properly trained on policy or decision making. There is no requirement for APS supervisors to receive training in supervisory roles.
The family feels Adult Protective Services did not adequately protect William or Eula Fitzhugh. On the other hand, William did not talk about the abuse until he was on his death bed when he admitted that Cory beat him the most, but Christopher had done the same in the past. With that information, APS did not close the case.
It took two weeks before the prosecutor’s office filed charges against Cory and Christopher for “abusing and financially exploiting their grandfather.” The result: Cory is in the Allegan County Jail; Christopher is out on bond.
The family is outraged because they feel that the system failed their parents/grandparents. An 82-page audit indicates that MDHHS needs to improve the review of APS complaints and evaluate APS staff. Additionally, criminal activity must be more adequately reported to law enforcement.
In the meanwhile, there are things that the general public can do to prevent elder abuse.
If there is a belief that someone is in danger, contact Adult Protective Services at 1-855-444-3911 and file a report, or call your local law enforcement if someone is in immediate danger.
If the abuse is occurring at a long-term care facility, call the Michigan Long-Term Care Ombudsman at 1-866-485-9393.
Sdtay in contact with the older adults in your life.

The National Institute on Aging had identified the most basic signs of abuse. These are that the victim 1. Seems depressed, confused or withdrawn; 2. Is isolated from friends and family; 3. Has unexplained bruises, burns or scars; 4. Appears dirty, underfed, dehydrated, over-or undermedicated, or not receiving needed care for medical problems; 5. Has bed sores or other preventable conditions; and/or 6. Has recent changes in banking or spending patterns.
Inform and follow-up with Adult Protective Services, the Long-term Care Ombudsman, and/or the police. Our most vulnerable population needs the assistance of everyone.

One Reply to “Grandson’s charged with abuse, death of Grandfather

  1. I Hope These Punks Go Right To 4000 Cooper St. Jackson , MI. 4 Block , AAND Receive ⚖ Justice ……

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