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Nurses sentenced after hidden camera showed veteran gasping for breath, crying for help

The sentence comes nearly five years after an 11Alive Reveal investigation uncovered hidden camera video that compelled law enforcement to arrest three nurses.

ATLANTA — Two metro Atlanta nurses are headed to prison and another is on probation for failing to save a dying man seen begging for help on a hidden camera video nearly eight years ago.

During a virtual hearing Tuesday afternoon, Loyce Agyeman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, neglect to an elder person and concealing a death. DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Shondeana Morris sentenced her to eight years in prison.

A grand jury indicted Agyeman in 2018 with felony murder, which would have carried a potential life sentence. The district attorney’s office reached a plea deal with the former nurse and the judge approved it.

The sentence comes nearly five years after an 11Alive Reveal investigation uncovered hidden camera video that compelled law enforcement to arrest Agyeman and two of her former nursing homes colleagues for failing to save 89-year-old James Dempsey.

In 2014, Dempsey admitted himself to Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation following hip surgery. He did not have dementia and was expected to return home after he recovered. His family said they purchased a special van and a hospital bed for their father after he recovered.

He never made it home.

On Feb. 27, 2014, Dempsey complained to nursing staff about his heart and difficulty breathing. Instead of checking his vitals, a hidden camera installed by Dempsey’s family captured Agyeman telling him to stop pressing his call button for help and then leaving the room. 

During the hearing, DeKalb County District Attorney Deputy Chief Jeanne Canavan told the judge a nursing assistant later noticed the World War II veteran was unresponsive.

Nurse Agyeman returned to the room at the time, but instead of starting CPR, she left for an hour to check if Dempsey requested a DNR, a ‘Do Not Resuscitate.’ When she finally confirms he did want his life saved in the event of an emergency, Agyeman still doesn’t try to save his life.

“Right then and then and there. She had violated the standard of care. She had violated her duty to Mr. Dempsey. She did not try to save his life,” said Canavan earlier this month to the judge, who heads the county’s elder abuse division.

In February, a judge sentenced nursing assistant Mable Turman to five years of probation. She pleaded guilty to concealing the death of another and neglect of an elder person and depriving an elder person of essential services.

Another nurse, Wanda Nuckles is charged with depriving an elder person of essential services and concealing the death of another. The state claims she failed to immediately start CPR when she first arrived at Dempsey’s bedside, too.

The hidden camera video shows Nuckles and Agyeman only aggressively started CPR as paramedics arrived at the facility. “The point is they worked together to conceal the gross negligence and disregard for human life that caused Mr. Dempsey to die on that night,” Canavan said. 

Judge Morris ordered Agyeman to arrive at the DeKalb County Jail on Thursday, March 31 to start her sentence. During a hearing on Wednesday, Nuckles was sentenced to a year in prison after the nursing supervisor pleaded guilty to concealing the death of another. The judge ordered her to arrive at the DeKalb County Jail on April 1 for her one-year sentence. 

Dempsey's son said he's glad it's finally all over. 

"It's been a long road. Relief that it's finally over. The coverage was around the world. I saw a news article in Australia, Europe, Canada," he said. "It's been unbelievable. Thank you, thanks Channel 11. Hopefully, this is the end of the trial but maybe it's not the end to helping other people, elderly people, that may need help, that, they are better cared for." 

Timeline of Dempsey's Case

2014: Dempsey died. Hidden camera video showed all three women failing to respond to Dempsey slowly dying, complaining he could not breathe.

2017: 11Alive investigation exposed what happened and compelled Brookhaven Police to launch an investigation.

2018: The DeKalb County DA indicted all three women.

2019: Attorneys representing the nursing staff filed an appeal trying to keep the hidden camera video secret, citing privacy laws.

2020: Georgia Supreme Court ruled the video can be used in the case. The court’s decision also created case law, making it now legal for families to place hidden cameras inside of their loved ones’ nursing home rooms. 

Dempsey’s family did not speak during the hearing, but told 11Alive they accept Agyeman’s sentence. “Anything we do, will not bring my dad back, but maybe we saved some other families from what we went through. Maybe this will send a message to other centers and nurses that you cannot just ignore a patient because they are elderly,” said Tim Dempsey, talking about his deceased father.

Even before Tuesday’s sentence, Dempsey’s case had a huge impact on Georgia’s nursing home industry. In 2019, defense attorneys tried to get the hidden camera video banned from the case, citing privacy rights for the nursing staff.

The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed, which allowed the video to be used during a trial. The court’s decision make it now law that families are allowed to place hidden camera videos in loved ones’ nursing home rooms.