View Full Version : Texas Nurse Charged for Reporting Doctor

Feb 9, 2010, 08:10 AM

This story is quite odd... it surprises me that people would try to get away with this level of grossly inappropriate practices in 2010, even in such a small town.

KERMIT, Tex. It occurred to Anne Mitchell as she was writing the letter that she might lose her job, which is why she chose not to sign it. But it was beyond her conception that she would be indicted and threatened with 10 years in prison for doing what she knew a nurse must: inform state regulators that a doctor at her rural hospital was practicing bad medicine.

When she was fingerprinted and photographed at the jail here last June, it felt as if she had entered a parallel universe, albeit one situated in this barren scrap of West Texas oil patch.

“It was surreal,” said Mrs. Mitchell, 52, the wife of an oil field mechanic and mother of a teenage son. “I said how can this be? You can’t go to prison for doing the right thing.”

But in what may be an unprecedented prosecution, Mrs. Mitchell is scheduled to stand trial in state court on Monday for “misuse of official information,” a third-degree felony in Texas.

The prosecutor said he would show that Mrs. Mitchell had a history of making “inflammatory” statements about Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr. and intended to damage his reputation when she reported him last April to the Texas Medical Board, which licenses and disciplines doctors.

Mrs. Mitchell counters that as an administrative nurse, she had a professional obligation to protect patients from what she saw as a pattern of improper prescribing and surgical procedures — including a failed skin graft that Dr. Arafiles performed in the emergency room, without surgical privileges. He also sutured a rubber tip to a patient’s crushed finger for protection, an unconventional remedy that was later flagged as inappropriate by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Charges against a second nurse, Vickilyn Galle, who helped Mrs. Mitchell write the letter, were dismissed at the prosecutor’s discretion last week.

The case has been infused with the small-town politics of this wind-whipped city of 5,200 in the heart of the Permian Basin, 10 miles from the New Mexico border. The seeming conflicts of interest are as abundant as the cattle grazing among the pump jacks and mesquite.

When the medical board notified Dr. Arafiles of the anonymous complaint, he protested to his friend, the Winkler County sheriff, that he was being harassed. The sheriff, an admiring patient who credits the doctor with saving him after a heart attack, obtained a search warrant to seize the two nurses’ work computers and found the letter.

Both sides acknowledge that the case has polarized the community, and the judge has moved the trial to a neighboring county.

The state and national nurses associations have called the prosecution an outrage and raised $40,000 for the defense. Legal experts argue that in a civil context, Mrs. Mitchell would seem to be protected by Texas whistle-blower laws.

Feb 9, 2010, 08:15 AM
Subbing to see how this progresses. In such a small town it'd be no surprise that the judge, lawyers and doctors all play tennis together :D

Feb 9, 2010, 08:45 AM
Yep. In one small town I know of, they go after people for sport. Sure, it takes one misstep to draw yourself into their sights, but once there, you can never leave. My theory is that, one, they have too much time on their hands, and two, power corrupts. But, it doesn't stop at the local level in this particular community. The DA and a Federal judge in that jurisdiction are just as corrupt. This judge has a 90-95% conviction rate, a record that had him on the short list for a Supreme Court appointment. Thankfully, he didn't get it. But, if sending innocent people up lifts your boat, and you can control the outcome on cases that don't go to trial, why not feather your cap? That's the attitude, and it's repulsive.

A little more substance:
Do you think that saying hello and chatting with a former friend for 10 minutes at a community event in plain sight of anyone should be considered as a criminal "association" with that individual, just because the person is on probation and the individual is on a list of people he cannot associate with? I don't. But, the person's probation was revoked, and he was sent to Federal Prison for two years(!) because he failed to make a note of this innocuous chance meeting in his report to his probation officer. We pay for that!

If this is the "justice" system in one small community that I'm familiar with, how many times do you suppose such miscarriages are repeated across the whole state and the whole nation?! I mean, in the instance I described, even if this should be considered an "association" (absurd!) does two years in the Federal pen match the seriousness of the violation? Obviously not! It's just authority run amok. And the judge said his only regret was that the law constrained him from handing down a more severe sentence! The only reason for that: the public defender recommended a guilty plea just based on this judge's reputation. Turns out that, under the smelly circumstances, it was good advice. Had it been disputed, he could have gotten 14 years! Had it gone to jury trial, he could have gotten that much if convicted, or he could have been acquitted. Would you take that chance?

To be fair, the "case" also hinged on the person being seen giving a ride to another "banned" individual from the convenience store to that individual's home on a cold winter night, an act of kindness that is not disputed. (The trip was certainly less than 2 miles.) And, another chance meeting with a banned individual was alleged that the probationer cannot remember.

Feb 9, 2010, 08:54 AM
It looks like a tough case that is wrecked with dual relationships and ethical boundary violations.

Feb 9, 2010, 01:08 PM
mscriv, you don't say which one... the one just above your post (my story) or the story in the OP. Or, both?

Feb 9, 2010, 01:18 PM
This is why I don't trust the sheriff's office of any county. They truly act as if it is the wild west and they try to do as they please.

It will be interesting to see how this ends.

Feb 9, 2010, 02:44 PM
mscriv, you don't say which one... the one just above your post (my story) or the story in the OP. Or, both?

I was referring to the original story. The one you related is more difficult to give an opinion on as I see both sides of it.

Feb 10, 2010, 08:49 AM
I was referring to the original story. The one you related is more difficult to give an opinion on as I see both sides of it.
Well, perhaps I should have also included the fact that the probationer was given an explanation of the meaning attached to "associate with" and neither of the two chance encounters came close to fitting the restriction, nor did they qualify as something that needed to be reported. Further, the local officer's report embellished one of the incidents, adding things that were just plain false, but making the "case" appear more serious.

There was no violation of the terms of the probation, there was no danger to the public, or to any individual and no damage to property, no offense to anyone, however slight. Yet, we pay for an incarceration for two years! The local yokels just love to play gotcha. In small towns like this, you're going to have chance encounters with people on the "banned from association" list. If there's a pattern of "chatting" for a few minutes, sure, you start to question what they're talking about. But one time??? Ridiculous!

As to the story about the whistleblower, I'd love to know how it turned or turns out. It just struck me as more of the same "good old boys network" stuff that I'm familiar with. It's more than just playing golf with "strange bedfellows".

Feb 10, 2010, 09:09 AM
only in Texas...

Feb 10, 2010, 12:29 PM
only in Texas...

Sadly, that's far from true. The story I told above is not set in Texas. I suspect similar things (to either story here) happen in dozens of small towns in almost every state on a regular basis.

Feb 10, 2010, 01:14 PM
Sadly, that's far from true. The story I told above is not set in Texas. I suspect similar things (to either story here) happen in dozens of small towns in almost every state on a regular basis.

Like Chicago. :D

Feb 10, 2010, 02:02 PM
Like Chicago. :D

This seems on a plane of even more ridiculousness than Chicago corruption. Granted, the impacts of the Chicago corruption are much more disturbing.

The problem I have is that, the way the justice system works, it very rarely punishes the law enforcement or, particularly, the judiciary... any judges involved in this (e.g., the one who granted the warrant) should, if their actions were improper, be removed from the bench, disbarred, and susceptible to large civil damages for this kind of behavior. But it's unlikely they'll get even a slap on the wrist.

This is a problem I have with our justice system -- when people who uphold our laws wontonly violate them, I don't understand how this cannot be viewed as the most heinous of crimes, short, perhaps, of genocide. This is a violation of the most basic trust we place in our nation.