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Embattled guardian refuses to answer questions about ward's death

Rebecca Fierle previously removed from 98 cases
Posted: 6:52 PM, Jul 24, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-24 19:02:16-04
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A professional guardian under fire for allegedly causing the death of a man who was under her care by issuing a "Do Not Resuscitate" order without permission was grilled by a Hillsborough County about another case Wednesday.

Rebecca Fierle has been appointed by courts to care for at least 450 people in 13 counties, all of whom judges have ruled can't care for themselves and don’t have families or others who can care for them.

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Wednesday, Hillsborough County Judge Catherine Catlin ordered Fierle to appear in court to explain how she oversees her cases, in the wake of a DNR order she placed on Steven Stryker before his death at a Tampa hospital in May.

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Fierle didn't want to talk to us as she left the courthouse, but moments earlier, she had to answer to a judge.

“I set this hearing, as I’m sure you can assume, because I found out what was happening over in Orlando,” Judge Catlin said.

RELATED: Embattled professional guardian accused of causing death resigns from 40 cases

Earlier this month, an Orange County judge removed Fierle from 98 cases after she capped off Stryker's feeding tube and signed a DNR order.

Stryker choked to death at St. Joseph's Hospital days later, after doctors there told her to rescind that order.

A state investigation has recommended criminal charges against Fierle for withholding medical care, something ABC Action News legal analyst Jeff Swartz says she wasn't allowed to do.

RELATED: State report on guardian: 'Removal of necessary care directly resulted in ward's death'

“She made life and death decisions she was not authorized to make, asserting she had the right to make those, when she did not. She did not go back to court to get permission to make those decisions, nor did she consult with the family,” said Swartz.

“There's always the possibility she could be charged with manslaughter for the things that she did because someone died because of her actions which may have been negligent or possibly purposeful,” he said.

The state's investigation has also caught the governor's attention.

“Those potential charges, if the facts are there, holding someone accountable, I think is totally appropriate,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday.

RELATED: Judge removes professional guardian from nearly 100 cases for alleged violations

“That obviously will help ensure that people don't do this in the future if they know there's going to be consequences,” he said.

Judge Catlin questioned whether Fierle had a DNR in place for the ward under Catlin’s jurisdiction.

“I believe she had a DNR order when she was in Orlando, but since she moved to Tampa and Haines City, there's no DNR in the chart,” said Fierle.

The judge said Fierle failed to notify the court for a full year that she had moved that ward from Orlando to Tampa, then moved her again when the judge scheduled an emergency hearing.

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email us at adam@abcactionnews.com.