A Texas jury struck a blow, according to many observers, for health-care whistle blowers and patients alike by acquitting a nurse who was prosecuted under state law for complaining about the way a small-town doctor practiced medicine.
Anne Mitchell was acquitted Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, of a felony charge of misuse of official information after she filed an anonymous complaint to a state medical board about a doctor she said wasn't giving patients proper care. ( AP Photo)
In a widely watched case, a Texas jury acquitted Anne Mitchell of a charge of "misuse of official information." The allegation was lodged against Mitchell, who was a nurse at a hospital in Kermit, Texas, after she filed a complaint about Dr. Rolando Arafiles with the Texas Medical Board.
After Mitchell filed her complaint, Arafiles learned of it and went to the local sheriff who was friendly with the doctor and credited the physician with saving his life after a heart attack. The charge of misuse of official information followed sometime later with prosecutors alleging that she filed the complaint for personal not official reasons.
The trial was discussed recently on All Things Considered.
The Associated Press reported the following:
After the jury returned its verdict, Mitchell said her complaint "had nothing to do with personal feelings," and she would continue to report doctors if she believes they are not giving patients proper care.
"I still have to do those things for patients," said Mitchell, who would have faced up to 10 years in prison if she had been convicted. "My duty's never changed."
Dozens of nurses filled the courtroom throughout this week's trial, and many wept when the verdict was announced. Nursing associations and health care watchdogs across the country rallied around Mitchell, calling the case is a key test of physician accountability. Alex Winslow, executive director of the patient safety advocacy group Texas Watch, said Thursday's acquittal doesn't end the concern.
"Whether Ms. Mitchell was convicted or exonerated, was largely irrelevant to the long-term impact her prosecution will have on Texas patients," he said in a statement. "The very fact that she was prosecuted will make individuals who have information that could save lives will think twice before speaking up, putting Texas patients at risk."
Arafiles was not in court Thursday to hear the verdict, and a telephone message was left at the Winkler County hospital where he works. A message was also left Thursday for the prosecutor, Winkler County Attorney Scott Tidwell.
Mitchell's complaint filed in April accused Arafiles of improperly encouraging patients to buy herbal medicines and wanting to use hospital supplies to perform a procedure at a patient's home.