Former Fargo nurse sentenced for pushing, killing memory care patient
Rachel Cooper got on her knees and begged Judge Nicholas Chase to give her a day with family before she had to start her prison sentence.
FARGO — The sentencing of a former Fargo nurse who killed a memory care patient ended with the woman on her knees as she begged the judge to give her a day with her family before she was sent to prison for two years.
Rachel Wede Cooper, 60, cried as she explained Monday, March 20, in Cass County District Court that she didn’t mean to hurt 78-year-old Gary Pearson when she pushed him the night of Aug. 3, 2021, at Maple View Memory Care in Fargo. Pearson was a retired teacher, coach and radioman.
“I’m so sorry for what happened,” Cooper said.
Judge Nicholas Chase said Cooper is a good person, but she had options other than pushing Pearson. She also had multiple opportunities to report what happened but didn’t, Chase added.
“I’m sentencing you for what you did, not for who you are,” the judge said in ordering the two-year prison sentence.
Cooper initially was charged with two Class B felonies — manslaughter and endangering an eligible adult — in connection to Pearson’s death. Video played in court showed Pearson standing in the doorway of his room and holding the bathroom door.
Cooper said she went into the room after smelling feces. She cleaned Pearson and the bathroom before he blocked her way out, she said.
Cooper shoved Pearson and he landed in the Maple View hallway on his hip, video showed.
Cooper walked out of Pearson’s room and continued to do chores, prosecutor Katie Nechiporenko said Monday. Pearson remained on the ground for 47 seconds before Cooper helped him up and put him to bed, Nechiporenko said.
Cooper then reported to staff that Pearson fell, the prosecutor said. Staff checked on him throughout the night and didn’t send him to a hospital until after reviewing footage of what happened the next day, Nechiporenko said.
Police responded about 18 hours later after receiving a report that Pearson was injured.
Pearson suffered extreme dementia and didn’t remember what happened, court documents said. The push broke his hip, which contributed to his death on Aug. 19, 2021. Cooper was ultimately fired from Maple View.
“This case is about bad decisions,” Nechiporenko said. “Miss Cooper is not a bad person, but she did make bad choices, and those bad choices cost someone their life.”
Pearson's family did not speak during the hearing.
Cooper faced up to 10 years in prison for each charge. A plea agreement lowered the manslaughter charge to a Class C felony of negligent homicide. The endangering an eligible adult count was dismissed.
The ex-nurse entered an Alford plea, meaning she didn’t admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence for a jury to convict her if she went to trial.
Cooper claimed Pearson was confrontational as he blocked the door. She also said there was no way to call for help. The room didn’t have a phone, and she didn’t have a pager to call staff, she added.
Cooper has taken care of many people, said her attorney Steven Mottinger. She went into the room to help Pearson and clean his room, not injure him, Mottinger said.
“I think an argument can be made that the cause of death is not necessarily related to what Miss Cooper did, but from Day 1, she wanted to accept responsibility for her involvement in this situation,” Mottinger said.
One person was assigned to each wing of Maple View at night during Cooper’s employment, Mottinger said.
“As a general rule, to Rachel’s understanding, they are not to go into an individual’s room without somebody else being there,” Mottinger said, adding that no other staff was available as Cooper made her rounds in her wing.
Maple View leadership did not return a message left by The Forum on Monday seeking comment for this story.
In arguing for no more than six months in jail, Mottinger questioned what a prison sentence would accomplish. Cooper has punished herself over Pearson’s death.
Cooper is a good person, but Pearson mattered, too, Nechiporenko said. Pearson was vulnerable and relied on staff, Nechiporenko said, adding that he was violently pushed.
The prosecutor argued for two years in prison, a recommendation that Judge Chase followed.
Cooper was arrested shortly after Pearson died but was released from jail after posting bond. The judge gave her credit for having already served two days in jail.
After the sentencing hearing ended, Cooper begged Chase to give her a day with family before she had to turn herself in to serve her sentence. The judge said the hearing was over, but Cooper got on her knees as she asked again.
A sheriff's deputy pulled Cooper to her feet, handcuffed her and led her out of the courtroom into custody.