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Bethany Wesley, Forum Communications Co., Published January 28 2012

Family reflects on charge against father

BAGLEY, Minn. – After the false imprisonment charge against Jennings Sunderland was dropped, the family waited for an apology.

It never came.

The family remembered Clarice Sunderland at her funeral Saturday, Jennings’ wife of more than 50 years, just seven months after Jennings died unexpectedly last summer.

The family has never forgotten the events of 2009, which led to the temporary separation of Jennings and Clarice by order of Clearwater County.

“All my family had ever wanted from the county was an apology, but they would not do it,” said Connie Krivich, one of the Sunderlands’ six children, in a recent phone interview.

The Sunderlands, of Bagley, were the focus of a 2009 investigation during which Jennings was charged with felony false imprisonment, a charge that was later dropped. Jennings, then 78, had been caring for Clarice, then 76, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Jennings was arrested and charged after authorities found he had been using a chain to restrain his wife while she sat in a recliner. Jennings maintained that he sat right next to her, that the chain was laid across Clarice’s lap and was used as an alarm system so she would not wander off in case he dozed off.

“It’s difficult when someone has Alzheimer’s,” Krivich said. “The people who care for them deserve a lot of credit. My dad was a wonderful man. I hope people remember that.”

Problems begin

A social worker, a sheriff’s deputy and an investigator went to the farm on Aug. 4, 2009, for a welfare check, according to the criminal complaint.

They found Clarice in a chair with a chain around her. The criminal complaint alleged that the chain was connected behind the chair, but Jennings and the family disputed that, saying it was laid across her lap with enough slack to allow Clarice to stand up.

Jennings was arrested and spent a night in jail. He was charged with felony false imprisonment.

The couple was separated. Jennings was not able to see his wife for 20 days and, after that, could not see his wife without the presence of a third party.

Krivich said things got even worse. Clarice was sent to live in a nursing home where the family believes she was mistreated. Krivich said Clarice had undocumented bruises that led to a Minnesota Department of Health investigation, which was determined to be inconclusive.

Reunited

The charge against Jennings was dropped in October 2009 and, eventually, the couple was briefly reunited at home, but then Jennings himself had a health setback and they again were separated.

“He fell that winter and broke his hip,” Krivich said.

He was unable to care for her so she went to live at The Garden Place in Bagley.

Jennings was recovering, but he then fell again so he, too, went to The Garden Place for rehabilitation.

While Jennings was not in the nursing home long, he spent most of his time there alongside his wife.

“He always brought her candy; she loved chocolate bars,” Born said. “He would come and sit and they would watch TV together.”

Jennings’ death on June 12 was unexpected, Krivich said.

“They day he died, we were planning to take him home the following week,” she said. The family was discussing with him the rehab work he would be doing once he got home.

He had lunch and sat down in the recliner in his room. The nurse later came to check on him and found that he had died.

‘Never got an apology’

Jennings never got over the events of 2009, Krivich said, noting that they affected his health.

“We never got an apology,” she said. “I think that’s what we were really looking for, for them to say, “Yes, we made a mistake.”

On Jan. 23, seven months after Jennings’ death and less than a week after what would have been their 53rd wedding anniversary, Clarice died.

“My mother worked for Clearwater County for 40 years as a nurse and to this day we are still shocked that the same county she gave her life to treated her so carelessly in the last years of her life,” Krivich said.

Jeanine Brand, who in 2009 was the Clearwater County attorney, was defeated in a re-election bid by Richard Mollin, 62 to 34 percent.

“In the end justice prevailed and the results were clear after the election,” Krivich said. “My dad was so hurt by what happened; he always had my mother’s best interest at heart and he was a wonderful caregiver to her. He cared for her right to the end, until he physically could no longer do it.”


Bethany Wesley writes for The Bemidji Pioneer