BELFAST, Maine — A Winterport man has been charged with endangering the welfare of his elderly father who suffers from dementia, after police found the man strapped to his couch during a wellness check this spring.
The defense attorney for Michael Underhill, 56, said on Monday there’s a fair chance the case will go to trial.
“He was the full caregiver to his aging father, who has advanced dementia and was at times seriously combative,” attorney Logan Perkins said of his client. “He was in a very difficult position with limited resources and limited availability of caregiving resources in rural Maine.”
The charge stems from an April 9 visit to Underhill’s home after the Waldo County District Attorney’s office requested a welfare check on an 84-year-old man who reportedly was being tied to a chair and sitting in his own bodily waste.
Waldo County Deputy Jim Porter discovered Underhill’s father on the couch at his School House Road home. The man seemed unable to get up because of his illness, the deputy wrote in the investigation narrative. He was in front of a stoked fire, with his legs propped up with an empty beer cooler and his feet resting on a pillow.
“His legs were bare and I could see several abrasions on his legs and arms,” the deputy wrote, adding that the sores had begun to heal.
The man reportedly told Porter that no one else had been in the home that morning and that the last time he had had anything to eat was about a week ago. The deputy noted that the man had soiled himself, but added that he “chuckled” and denied that someone had tied him to the couch.
The man was transported to the hospital by ambulance for treatment.
“The EMTs had moved the blankets and revealed a red rope tied around [his] legs,” the deputy wrote. “There was a towel underneath the rope. There was also a yellow ratchet strap coming up through the couch and appeared to be wrapped around his waist.”
Shortly after the father was taken to the hospital, Underhill came home and was interviewed by the deputy. Underhill said he had left a couple of hours earlier to go grocery shopping and that on his last trip to the doctor’s office with his father, the doctor told him that his legs needed to be elevated for circulation. That’s why he had put his father’s legs up on a cooler with a pillow, he explained to the deputy, and also why he wrapped a towel around his legs and used a rope to keep his legs in place.
“He said without any prompting that he had rigged a heavy-duty ratchet strap around the frame of the couch to secure the rope,” the deputy wrote in the investigation narrative.
Underhill said he had fed his father some canned oysters that morning.
“He went on to say, they seem to be the only thing he wants to eat these days,” Porter wrote.
The deputy said that they discussed getting some home health care in to help Underhill, so he can have a break once in a while. He also wrote in his report that with the exception of the couch, the house was clean and he did see an oyster can by the sink.
Perkins said that although a grand jury indicted her client on a single charge of endangering the welfare of a dependent person, a Class C crime, it is not a straightforward case. She said that Underhill is a decorated career military officer with no criminal history.
“He was doing the best he could to keep his dad at home in home-based care,” Perkins said. “That is an understandable impulse. Unless we are in it, it’s hard for anyone to really know or understand the choices he made.”