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Ex-nurse enters plea in death of Fargo memory care patient

Rachel Cooper pushed a 78-year-old patient at Maple View Memory Care, while she was cleaning his bathroom, according to a criminal complaint.

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Rachel Cooper entered a plea in the August 2021 death a memory care patient during her hearing in Cass County District Court on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — A former Fargo nurse has entered a plea to charges that allege she killed a memory care patient last year.

Cass County District Judge Nick Chase accepted the plea for negligent homicide on Friday, Dec. 9, from Rachel Wede Cooper.

Other stories by April Baumgarten
Medical staff did not check Luke Laducer's vitals or blood alcohol content after he said he was suicidal, a civil complaint said. He was at the hospital for five minutes before he was taken to jail.

Cooper, 60, entered an Alford plea, which means she acknowledged there is enough evidence to convict her, but she did not admit guilt.

Cooper initially was charged with Class B felonies of manslaughter and endangering an eligible adult. The charges each carried a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.

The manslaughter charge was lowered to negligent homicide, a Class C felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison. The endangering charge was dismissed.

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The charges stem from an early Aug. 3, 2021, assault on patient Gary Pearson at Maple View Memory Care in Fargo.

Cooper pushed 78-year-old Pearson while she was cleaning his bathroom, according to a criminal complaint. The two appeared to struggle over the bathroom door before Pearson was pushed, according to video described in court documents.

Staff are not supposed to move patients when they fall, but Cooper helped Pearson up, put him into his pajamas and placed him into his bed, the complaint said.

Police responded about 18 hours later after receiving a report that Pearson was injured.

Pearson, who suffered "extreme dementia," didn’t remember the incident, court documents said. The push caused a broken hip that contributed to his death on Aug. 19, 2021, prosecutors said.

Cooper was arrested after Pearson died but was released from jail after posting bond.

On Friday, Cooper's defense attorney Steve Mottinger told the court that Cooper went into the room to clean up Pearson after he soiled himself. Pearson was holding the bathroom door closed while Cooper was in the bathroom, Mottinger said. Pearson wouldn't let Cooper leave the room, so she "attempted to push or direct him to the side and away from the door," Mottinger said.

Cooper will be sentenced at a later date after a presentence investigation is completed.

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A previous version of this story incorrectly described how Cooper caused Pearson to fall. She "attempted to push or direct him to the side and away from the door," her attorney said.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTSFARGO
April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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“We have heard from our citizens throughout this process,” Commissioner Denise Kolpack said. “I certainly am taking their input to heart on this case. It’s clear that a majority have spoken.”