Susanne Krout’s daughter is dying.
The 28-year-old, a former Cal Poly graduate, suffers from a rare genetic disorder that leads to the build up of iron in her brain. The disease is incurable and progressively degenerative; leading to dementia, motor decline, and eventually death, according to medical experts.
But Susanne hasn’t seen her now hospitalized daughter, referred to in court documents as M.A., since October of 2015. Susanne said she is legally barred from any contact with her daughter while she faces a felony criminal charge of dependent adult abuse. With legal proceedings moving slowly through SLO County’s criminal justice system, Susanne said she isn’t even sure if her daughter—the alleged victim in the case—is alive.
“It’s absolute hell,” Susanne told New Times.
Susanne and her son Thomas J. Anderson were arrested by SLO County Sheriff’s deputies on October 15, 2015, after an investigation into reports that both had neglected M.A. as her health declined and did not seek appropriate assistance for her as she got worse.
Susanne and her husband and attorney, Michael Krout, dispute the claims, stating that both Susanne and her son cared for their family member at their Nipomo home then sought medical attention when they could no longer do so. The SLO County Sheriff’s Office and the SLO County District Attorney’s Office, however, aim to prove that Susanne and Anderson failed to seek that medical attention and that their treatment of M.A. during her time in the home constituted criminal neglect and abuse of a dependent adult.
In the end, it’s up for the court to decide. Until then—while Susanne is innocent until proven guilty—she said that she isn’t allowed even supervised visits with her daughter, even as her health is likely worsening.
“I don’t know if she’s alive or dead,” she said.
If the allegations against Susanne and Anderson are true, it’s not a surprise why authorities would be concerned. According to court records, staff at the Marian Regional Medical Center contacted police after M.A. was taken to the hospital by ambulance on Sept. 23. According to court documents, staff believed that the young woman showed signs of neglect. Court documents stated that the staff told Sheriff’s Office officials that M.A. was malnourished, “covered in urine, feces, and dirt,” and “had several bruises over her body and a rash on her buttocks.” Sheriff’s Office investigators claimed that M.A. had fallen on the floor and “was left there for several days” by her caregivers, Susanne and Anderson, before being taken to a hospital.
“The investigation revealed this was not an isolated incident and was a pattern of neglect and abuse for the last few months,” stated a press release from the Sheriff’s Office issued shortly after the arrests.
Speaking with New Times, Susanne and Michael disputed nearly all of those allegations and claimed that the investigators mischaracterized the situation.
“They have basically characterized taking care of a dying relative as crime,” Michael said.
Susanne said she and Anderson cared for M.A. in their home after she fell ill. During that time, Susanne said her daughter expressed a desire to be at home. As she became more ill, M.A. needed help to accomplish basic functions, such as getting up and moving around and even using the restroom. Susanne alleges that the call to 911 to take M.A. to a hospital was made as soon as her condition became too severe and outweighed her desire to remain at the house.
“It was when her enjoyment of being home was more than we could handle, and it became a safety issue.” Susanne said.
The Krouts say they have evidence to support their claims and dispute the investigators’ allegations. That evidence includes a letter from a doctor who treated M.A. at UC San Francisco after she was transferred from Marian.
“Based on this data, it is my opinion that [M.A.’s] clinical course was not affected by the care she received at home prior to her hospitalization,” Dr. Vanja Douglas, an associate professor of clinical neurology at UC San Francisco, wrote. “She has a progressive, untreatable, and fatal disease.”
The case, which was filed in December 2015, is still ongoing and slowly moving toward a potential trial by jury. The court’s record of the case over the last seven-plus months is a litany of motions, hearings and continuances. During this time, Anderson’s case was separated from Susanne’s. As the case continues, Susanne remains as adamant about her innocence as the prosecutors are of her guilt and concerned that she might not have a chance to see her daughter again, even if she is victorious in the court case.
“It’s terrible,” she said.
Both Susanne and Michael argued that the DA’s office could allow Suzanne to see her daughter, even supervised, while the case progresses. SLO County Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said such matters were at the discretion of the court itself.
“Any orders regarding ‘stay away,’ visitation, etc. would be court orders,” Cunningham wrote in an email response to questions from New Times. “Only a judge can issue, modify, or terminate such orders.”
Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @CWMcGuinness.