LARGO, Fla. — A Pinellas County man is fighting to care for his grandmother after he wasn't notified of a court hearing that stripped away her rights.
The family called the ABC Action News I-Team, hoping we could get to the bottom of why nearby close relatives were left out of the process.
“I love you, grandma,” Jesse Locke told his grandmother Eloise, as he gave her a hug.
He recently reunited with her for the first time since she had been removed from her home by a professional guardian earlier this month.
Jesse says he and other family members were banned from seeing her in the assisted living center for 17 days.
“God it was a nightmare,” Eloise said, describing her recent ordeal.
A professional guardian who was appointed by the court obtained an ex-parte order, normally used to detain mentally ill people, to remove her from her home on June 4.
“I knew I couldn't fight the handcuffs. And there were three big policemen,” Eloise said.
Records indicate she was transported by ambulance from her home to a Largo mental hospital, before being taken to the memory care center at an ALF.
A Pinellas County Probate Judge earlier determined Eloise was incapacitated based on a petition filed by her guardian’s attorney.
Among the allegations in the petition were that she has dementia and lived in an uninhabitable, dirty home.
“It might not look like much to the average person, but I have a million memories here,” said Jesse.
He admits the home is small and old but believes it is a clean, safe place for his grandmother to live.
“My grandpa built it with his two hands 69 years ago. She wants to die in there,” Jesse said.
The guardian also reported Eloise was paranoid, confused and malnourished.
“Oh, baloney. The refrigerator was full of food,” said Eloise.
She says her daughter-in-law, who lives down the street, regularly goes grocery shopping for her.
Another grandson lives directly behind her home.
Eloise’s guardian tried to get the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to remove her from her home on June 1, saying it was an emergency situation since she was living in deplorable conditions.
A deputy visited the home and said in his report, “We made contact with Eloise right after and she let us look around her residence.”
“While Eloise’s residence didn’t appear spotless, it did seem livable from my perspective. The residence had working water and electricity. The fridge had food and Eloise stated she has friends to bring her to and from grocery stores,” the report goes on to say.
He informed the guardian that based on his observations, he did not find it uninhabitable.
That’s when the guardian sought the court order to have her forcibly removed.
“Literally you could have thrown a rock from Eloise's house and hit one of those people's houses,” said attorney Gerald Hemness, who represents Jesse.
Hemness says Jesse and three other children of Eloise’s late son should have been given notice of her incapacity and guardianship hearings, arguing they are legally considered “next of kin” in Florida.
The Florida Guardianship Law says “Next of Kin” means those persons who would be heirs at law of the ward or alleged incapacitated person if the person were deceased and includes the lineal descendants of the ward or alleged incapacitated person.
“Had notice been done properly, he would have been aware of the proceeding. He could have pointed out that he wanted to help his grandmother,” said Hemness.
Eloise's two sons, who live in other states, were notified and did not object to the guardianship.
“The family members she checked with are thousands of miles away. Why didn't you check with anybody in the area? “ Jesse said.
The guardianship attorney declined an on-camera interview but says he doesn’t believe he was required to give notice to the local relatives since Eloise’s two sons are alive and agreed Eloise should be cared for by a professional guardian.
He told us that Jesse has the right now to petition the court to become involved in the process, which Jesse plans to do.
But he says he wishes he had been included in the original process, so he would not have had to hire an attorney at a personal cost of thousands of dollars.
“Jesse the grandson is having to come in and struggle to get back into a conversation that's essentially over already,” said Hemness.
“My client is completely eligible to serve. He had no blemishes that would cause the court concern about him,” said Hemness, who hopes Jesse will be given the chance to oversee his grandmother’s care through a family guardianship.
“We're all willing. Everybody's willing to help out,” Jesse said, indicating his brothers and other relatives also want to be part of the process.
“I can tell they love me and everything,” Eloise said, indicating nobody in her family has ever abused or exploited her.
“I’m not gonna stop until I get my grandma back,” Jesse said.
His attorney says he hopes Eloise can eventually have some of her rights restored.
He doesn’t believe she needs to be in a lock-down Alzheimer’s unit.
“Even when you're under a guardianship, what you want still matters. It's not supposed to be prison. It's not supposed to be a stripping of all of your life,” Hemness said.
“If she wants her grandson to take care of her instead of a stranger, that is, if not the most important thing, one of the most important things the court has to consider,” he said.