Clay Greene + Harold Scull: Did County Officials Separate Them Because of Elder Abuse?

The story of Clay Greene, 78, and his now-deceased partner Harold Scull, who was 89 when he died, started out as an episode of Sonoma County officials, in California, refusing to let two partners spend their last months together because they were gay, denying them hospital visitation rights and selling off their entire estate under their noses. But county officials are firing back, saying this wasn’t the blissful story we’ve been led to believe, and that the two men were separated because of domestic elder abuse.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Guerneville resident Clay Greene, 78, whose run-in with county officials began April 27, 2008 when his now deceased partner, Harold Scull, fell and injured himself at their Sebastopol home. According to Greene’s suit, the 88-year-old Scull had been chronically ill and was showing signs of dementia and reduced mental capacity at the time of his accident. As described in court papers by Greene’s attorney, Anne Dennis, Scull had been drinking, grew angry, and tried to leave the couple’s home “in a huff.” He missed the front step and fell down. When Greene tried to help him up, Scull “was combative and insisted on being left alone.”

Greene, however, called 911 and paramedics brought Scull to Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa. It would be the last time the two men would see each other. Observing bruises on Scull’s arms and face, hospital employees alerted county officials of suspected elder abuse, according to court papers, and the Public Conservator’s office became involved in the case. Scull left the hospital after three weeks, spent some time at a rehabilitation facility and then moved into Hill House in Kenwood, where he remained until his death on August 13, 2008.

[…] The county paints a different picture in a memorandum it filed with the superior court of Sonoma County this week. It alleges that when Scull was admitted to the hospital, he told Kaiser staffers that Greene had inflicted the injuries on him. “The county’s dealings with these men have noting to do with the fact they are gay or a same-sex couple. The county treats domestic violence the same, regardless of the gender, and takes domestic violence very seriously,” said Greg Spaulding, the county’s outside legal counsel. “The facts that have been reported by the other side are wrong.” The county contends that an investigation by the public guardian found that Scull required assistance with his personal and medical needs as well as his financial affairs, and that he “was afraid of” Greene and “did not want to return to the home he shared with” him.

But that’s not how NCLR’s Kate Kendall, who’s leading Greene’s lawsuit, sees it.

During that time the public conservator petitioned the courts for a temporary conservatorship of Scull’s estate, listing Greene as his roommate rather than partner of 20 years. The two men were not registered as domestic partners but had designated each other beneficiaries in their wills and filed the necessary paperwork to allow them to make medical decisions on their behalf. According to court papers, county employees went to the men’s home and in front of Greene commented that the couples’ belongings “will look great in my living room” and that “my wife will love this.”

The county eventually sold off the men’s property at auction and moved Greene into Agua Caliente Villas, an assisted living center in Sonoma, against his will, according to the lawsuit. He was kept from seeing or telephoning his partner and restricted from leaving his new residence. “Clay Greene and his partner, before Harold died, were subjected to false imprisonment and being denied access to each other,” said Kendell. “Other than a suitcase of his belongings and a photo book Harold made for him, he has nothing left of his former life.”

We can’t imagine NCLR didn’t look into these allegations before filing the suit — so we tend not to think they’re throwing good money after bad, chasing a lawsuit they’ve already filed just because they’re already in too deep. But as the case heads to a jury in July, there are some major unanswered questions here.

Meanwhile, Sonoma County is seeing its tourism brand tarnished.

[Bay Area Reporter, Press Democrat]