Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Housing Mentally Ill Violent Offender in Nursing Home Leads to Rape

by Matt Clarke

On January 16, 2009, a 21-year-old mentally ill man with a long history of violent crimes raped a 69-year-old woman housed in the same Illinois nursing home.

Christopher Shelton, 21, suffers from bipolar disorder that causes him to have an explosive temper, which led to multiple arrests for criminal violence. As a 6’1”, 230-pound teenager, he struck teachers with a metal bar he ripped out of a classroom desk drawer. Convicted of aggravated battery, he was eventually paroled from the state prison system. However, he had a half-dozen more run-ins with the police, including a 2006 arrest for throwing a woman into a brick wall and kicking her in the head and crotch.

In 2008 he was arrested three times; one of those arrests was for punching a man in the face at the Maplewood Care nursing home in Chicago, where Shelton resided. A few weeks later he was taken into custody by police on a previous battery charge. He was released in November 2008 and asked to be readmitted to Maplewood.

Without even asking why Shelton had been arrested, the nursing home accepted him. Maplewood tried to conduct a background check but used the wrong birth date, making the results worthless. Had they run a proper check they would have discovered, among other things, that Shelton had an outstanding felony arrest warrant.

Soon after he was readmitted to Maplewood, Shelton informed staff members that he was experiencing “increased sexual urges and thoughts.” They told him he should masturbate and use videos or magazines if needed. “There was no additional monitoring as an update or action taken by staff,” according to a subsequent state report.

At approximately 11:00 p.m. on January 16, 2009, a Maplewood employee noted that Shelton wasn’t in his room. She marked him as unaccounted for on her rounds sheet, but did nothing further. “The facility has no process for locating or monitoring residents that are unaccounted for during rounds,” the state report found.

Shelton had sneaked off the second floor, where he was housed, and raped a 69-year old woman who lived on the first floor. A little after 1:00 a.m., a nurse heard moaning from the woman’s room and found her over the edge of her bed, “crying and with a terrified look on her face.” Shelton was discovered hiding in her bathroom. He told police officers that he had “assaulted that lady” while she pleaded for him to “stop it, stop it.”

Despite this confession and the fact that the victim had a good memory, Maplewood’s investigation concluded that the sexual encounter was consensual, stating that the woman “never alleged abuse in her discussion with staff immediately or later when calling for the police.” If that were true, though, then why were the police called? Rather, Maplewood’s self-serving investigation may have been motivated by an interest in reducing the nursing home’s liability. Maplewood officials have denied that they tried to cover-up the incident.

Shelton has since claimed that the sex was consensual. Prosecutors didn’t buy that explanation, and charged him with aggravated criminal sexual assault. State and federal authorities fined Maplewood $44,400 for violations related to the incident. The nursing home is appealing, but its proposed “plan of correction” was approved in which a special card will be placed on the room doors of vulnerable patients “so that staff may be aware of their potential for abuse.”

The rape victim’s family has filed a lawsuit against Maplewood. “The only possible reason that you would be in this situation is a profit motive,” said attorney Pete Flowers, who represents the plaintiffs. “You want more residents in your facility, but you’re unwilling to pay for the necessary elements to protect all the residents.” The suit alleges that the victim’s family was not informed that Maplewood admitted younger residents “with a history of violent and aggressive criminal behaviors.”

Illinois uses nursing homes to house many of its mentally ill patients, including former prisoners with histories of violent crime. In fact, over 3,000 Illinois nursing home residents have felony records. Sex offenders who are placed in nursing homes have been the subject of national attention and a witch-hunt-like atmosphere; however, residents like Shelton, with prior convictions for violent felonies, have been virtually ignored. Until now, that is.

As of June 2009, 15 of Maplewood’s 186 residents had prior felony convictions, 45 percent had a primary diagnosis of mental illness, and about half were younger than 65 years of age. At the Somerset Place nursing home in Chicago, 62 of the 400 residents were felons, some of whom had been arrested while living at the facility. There were 17 police calls to Somerset from April 2008 to August 2009, including 5 that involved reports of criminal sexual assault.

Shelton pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual assault charges on December 18, 2009. He will serve 12 years under the plea agreement – in a state prison cell, not in a nursing home.

Sources: Chicago Tribune,

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login