Justice Department Discusses Anna Pou Case
Even though the Louisiana medical community has rallied to support Dr. Anna Pou, the New Orleans physician accused of killing four patients in the turbulent days following Hurricane Katrina, the attorney general's office emphasized it was the medical community that forced legal action.
Pou and nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry were arrested last summer after attorney general Charles C. Foti Jr. determined they conspired to deliver lethal injections of morphine and sedatives to four patients shortly before the floodwaters-ridden hospital was evacuated.
"The attorney general is (simply) the elected official in whose department the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) is housed," pointed out Kris Wartelle, public information director for the Louisiana Department of Justice. (Louisiana's MFCU is a nationally recognized leader in the investigation and prosecution of Medicaid fraud and nursing home abuse.) "Anyone who knows anything about the MFCU knows they're a federally funded … agency that happens to have their offices in the Department of Justice in Louisiana. Federal law mandates what they investigate. Whenever they get reports of suspicious deaths or abuse or neglect of an elderly person in any kind of facility that accepts Medicaid funds, they're obligated by federal law to investigate. The attorney general has no say over what they investigate or don't investigate."
Wartelle pointed out the United States Department of Health and Human Services assisted the state department with the Pou investigation based on the original affidavit. "There were more than 36 people on this case, well beyond the investigators and the attorneys and the medical experts in the MCFU department," she noted. "Together, they all spent probably 10-and-a-half months, 4,000-plus man hours, just on that one case. And they learned of the case when doctors and other nurses and medical staff that witnessed what happened came and reported to them. They would never had known about it if those people hadn't come forward and said there's been a horrendous action here that we know is not right and we need to tell you about it."
In February, the Pou case took an unexpected turn when New Orleans coroner Frank Minyard ruled there was no physical evidence of homicide. After consulting with some of the nation's leading forensic experts, Minyard classified all four deaths as "undetermined," meaning he could not conclusively say they died by accident, suicide or homicide or from natural causes.
Despite the ruling, District Attorney Eddie Jordan proceeded with plans to present the case to a grand jury.
International media is following the Pou case as closely as the Duke lacrosse rape case, in which three players were charged with raping a stripper at a team party last March. After unrelenting criticism about mishandling the scandalous case, District Attorney Mike Nifong asked Attorney General Roy Cooper to take over the case in mid-January, citing a conflict of interest following ethics charges filed against him by the state bar association.
Even though the two cases are drastically different, both district attorneys have been chastised for manipulating the cases to further their careers.
"The interesting thing is, the defense attorney has been pretty good about always saying, 'this is the attorney general that did this' … he's a defense attorney and he's going to do what he has to do … but he's also painted a picture that's completely inaccurate … and it's caused a lot of personal attacks on the attorney general," said Wartelle. "I really don't think it's fair when people take carte blanche about what the other side said and don't even call us to get the basic facts."
The New Orleans media made the Pou case public, after receiving tips from various sources, including those who may have originally reported information about Pou to authorities, pointed out Wartelle.
"All we ever did was say what the MCFU does and what they're supposed to do," she said. "So I think there are a lot of misconceptions. We can't comment on investigations that have been turned over to the district attorney and are now before a grand jury, which is a huge part of our problem. Our hands are pretty much tied. We can't comment on evidence or defend what MCFU did. The defense and the supporters of these people are very good at swaying public opinion because they know exactly what we can't say.
"The evidence led where it led, and there are things that people don't know out there, including the fact that medical professionals and doctors are the ones that turned this woman in."
Pou's defense attorney, Rick Simmons, said the medical community "did not 'force' the arrest of my client and the two nurses."
"In fact, the medical community is on Dr. Pou's side," said Simmons. "Anyone in the medical community knows that it is the government's (including the state of Louisiana) abandonment of the patients and the doctors that caused the situation to develop. Who investigates the government? It is not the AG's right or obligation to investigate that we question. While we do challenge his conclusions based upon our investigation of the case, it is the manner in which the arrest and news conference occurred that caused the public outcry."