Charges dismissed against woman charged in drowning death at Braham group home

The case against a woman charged in September 2011 after a man she was caring for in a Braham group home died after drowning in a bathtub has been dismissed.

Devra Cheyrle Stiles, 64, of Pine City, was charged Sept. 30, 2011 in 10th Judicial District Court in Cambridge with 2nd degree manslaughter-culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk in the Aug. 28, 2011 death of Gerald Edward Hyska.

Judge P. Hunter Anderson dismissed the charges by a court order filed April 4, 2013.

In his order, Judge Anderson said, “there is insufficient probable cause to support the charge of second degree manslaughter against the defendant as she did not act with ‘culpable negligence.’”

Stiles was the residential program lead at the Project New Beginnings group home in Braham. The group home is run by the Minnesota State Operated Community Services, which is a division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The group is owned by the state of Minnesota with the property being privately owned and leased to the state of Minnesota.

Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad said his office respects the decision of the court.

“It is disappointing that the court did not find criminal liability on the part of the defendant who, after having drafted the care plan specifying that the victim should not be left unattended in a bathtub, did just that for a period of approximately 37 minutes,” Edblad said. “While we respect the court’s decision, we disagree with the  legal analysis used in reaching its conclusion. However, due to the expressed desire of the victim’s family members that there be finality and closure to this tragedy, it is for that reason we have chosen not to pursue an appeal of the court’s order.”

According to the court order

New Beginnings is a 24-hour staffed group home with four patients, with Stiles being the only staff member at the home on the day of the incident.

In Judge Anderson’s court order, he notes Hyska suffered from spastic quadriplegia, blindness and mental retardation, who had limited use of his arms and legs but could push himself into a sitting position and could stand by holding onto another individual.

Hyska’s individual service plan stated, “staff are to be with Hyska when he is bathing — Hyska isn’t left alone during this procedure.”

The court order explains phone records show that after placing Hyska in the bath, Stiles left the room to speak on the phone for six minutes and 21 seconds. When she returned, she found Hyska submerged in the water and called 911.

Records establish that the time that elapsed from the time Stiles left the room to answer the phone and the time she placed the 911 call was 37 minutes.

Stiles had removed Hyska from the bath prior to placing the 911 call, but it’s not clear how long this process took.

The Department of Human Services conducted an investigation into the incident and indicated there is no evidence that Stiles made anything other than a good faith report of the incident under the Vulnerable Adults Act.