Sonoma County Forcibly Separates Elderly Gay Couple

Jim Burroway

April 19th, 2010

Some of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s directive to HHS to formulate rules requiring hospitals and health care institutions to honor LGBT patients’ ability to choose their partners as hospital visitors and decision makers stem from the mistaken belief that if those LGBT couples had signed powers of attorneys and advance medical directives, none of those problems would take place. But as tragic stories like this show, that simply isn’t true:

Clay and his partner of 20 years, Harold, lived in California. Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place—wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.

One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold’s care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.

Ignoring Clay’s significant role in Harold’s life, the county continued to treat Harold like he had no family and went to court seeking the power to make financial decisions on his behalf. Outrageously, the county represented to the judge that Clay was merely Harold’s “roommate.” The court denied their efforts, but did grant the county limited access to one of Harold’s bank accounts to pay for his care.

What happened next is even more chilling: without authority, without determining the value of Clay and Harold’s possessions accumulated over the course of their 20 years together or making any effort to determine which items belonged to whom, the county took everything Harold and Clay owned and auctioned off all of their belongings. Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Clay from his home and confined him to a nursing home against his will. The county workers then terminated Clay and Harold’s lease and surrendered the home they had shared for many years to the landlord.

Harold died, and Clay wasn’t allowed to be there to comfort him. Clay is also without all of their momentos and life possessions that they two had acquired together, with the exception of one photo album. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has filed a lawsuit on their behalf against Sonoma County. Trial begins on July 16.

In 2007, a Florida hospital denied Janice Langbehn access to her dying partner, again despite having a legal power of attorney.

Lindoro Almaviva

April 19th, 2010

What gets me is the basic lack of human decency.


April 19th, 2010

Wow…..I’m going to monitor this event for a while. This is important, as our organization have just launched a legal aid for LGBT couples, similar to this kind of thing.

Richard Rush

April 19th, 2010

It’s outrageous enough that the men were not recognized as a family, but the violation of the rights of these men appears to go way beyond that issue. There is either much more to this story, and/or some people should be charged with criminal acts.

The first paragraph of the block-quote says Clay, 77, was “in good health.” Then in the second paragraph it says Harold and Clay were put in separate nursing homes. So why was a man “in good health” put in a nursing home?

The events cited in the last paragraph would be outrageous even if the men were just roommates, or if Clay had been living alone – IF Clay was “in good health” as stated in the first paragraph.

My partner and I are old enough to think about these issues (not as old as Harold and Clay, though). We believe we have all the required documents in place, and then we read something like this and have to wonder if they are meaningless.

paul j stein

April 19th, 2010

It’s about the MONEY!, the ability to do whatever they can get away with using governmental authority. Removal of liability protections of county officials would be a start to ensuring proper behavior of civil authorities.

paul j stein

April 19th, 2010

I think my spouse would just show up at the hospital with a sawed-off and get his visitation rights settled without much hassle. He’s been Gay a short time, but a RedNeck a hell of a lot longer.

Kel Munger

April 19th, 2010

Yes, they were discriminated against and mistreated because they were gay.

But they were also discriminated against and mistreated because they are elderly.

The level of elder abuse that both public and private sources get away with treating elderly people this way because there’s often no one younger to defend their rights. Without active, involved advocates, the state (often having received information from a third party that stands to benefit) can decide that you’re no longer competent and put you away in a nursing home while taking your property to pay for it.

This is scary on a whole lot of levels.


April 19th, 2010

There are things about this story that don’t ring true. If it’s true, then it is terrible, but I am skeptical.

According to the story , Clay and the county were in litigation before a judge. Clay basically won, and the county was limited to access to a single bank account belonging to Harold. How is it that they then physically entered the apartment, seized personal property, and then sold it off? Clay would have had a lawyer and he could have easily gone back to the judge who ruled in his favor initially. Also, the county would have no mechanism to seize the property w/o a court order of some sort. Without that, Clay could have simply called 911 and reported a burglary. Finally, Clay could not be committed against his will w/o a hearing.

The story says nothing about any of this. I would hope that BTB wouldn’t mindlessly repeat press releases, but would dig a little deeper.


April 19th, 2010

That’s… beyond ugly. Here’s hoping that discovery for the suit turns up enough evidence for criminal charges.


April 19th, 2010

The complaint is available at .

@Tim: According to the complaint, the county and others represented Clay Greene as unfit, resulting in his placement in a nursing facility. This facility would not permit him to leave or to meet with anyone. It sounds as though there was a hearing to have him committed, but he was not present at the hearing(s).

Scott L.

April 19th, 2010

I wondered how long it would take before someone would start in defending the abuse of these men.

Clay might have had one judge on his side, and a lawyer, but if he was committed to a nursing home against his will he’d have had no way to contact said attorney. And another judge would not have been aware of another’s decision if the county moved quickly to seize everything owned by these men.

Elder abuse in California has been rampant and has barely been addressed in terms of protecting the rights of the elderly. Here, in Los Angeles, there was a HUGH scandal when it was found out that a conservator was legally forcing people into her care and pillaging their accounts, all while the county turned a blind eye. So, I believe what’s been reported here to be accurate.


April 19th, 2010

There’s got to be more to this than what is posted.

Too much just “happened”; it makes no sense, even within a context of discrimination or abuse.

Scott L.

April 19th, 2010

Of course there is more to this story! It didn’t just happen over night. But too many times it seems that those who clamor for the “whole” story are trying to justify what’s been done to the victims! Why, Clay must have been just a room mate! Harold must not have dotted some I or J in his power of attorney. The county must have been looking out for the best interest of both men. Clay must not have been subservient enough! How dare they think they have rights! Sh!t “happens” sometimes with the help of callous people.


April 19th, 2010

I just finished what I should have done: I read the complaint.

I realize that it is only the plaintiffs’ side, but beginning on page 8, and through to the end, it is gruesome. This is worth making a BIG deal about.

Harold Scull and Clay Greene were partners. Scull, 88, was injured in a fall at their home, and what followed (if allegations are true) was a “legal” dissolution not just of their 20-year relationship, but of all their personal property and even their pets. This to a background of ridicule and harassment due to their homosexuality.

Further, it looks like Greene was informally declared “crazy,” then virtually kidnapped and held hostage.

I’m curious if Scull and Greene had a domestic partnership, available in California, and not mentioned in the complaint.

It will be interesting to see how defendants respond.

Jason D

April 19th, 2010

I think some people are in disbelief partially because not all the facts are presented and also because there’s that part of them that thinks “no, this cannot be, not in America, not in 2010, no.”

But sadly, truth is often stranger than fiction.

And really, what missing details would make this make sense, what offense, condition, would make this all okay? What explanation would be good enough to make these things forgivable? Are you expecting to find that they didn’t sign the “please don’t screw me over when I’m old” document we all get in the mail at the age of 52? Did one of them secretly poison neighborhood puppies?

I absolutely think we need more details, but Tim, Soren, I doubt very seriously we’re going to find out anything that adequately makes this all okay short of finding out that it was all a big April Fool’s Day and that Clay and Harold are just fine.


April 19th, 2010

I agree that the fact that they’re elderly played a role. It made their victimization all that much easier. But that’s the whole point of all the legal paperwork they set up! When you’re old and frail, you need something backing you up, and they just shredded it up and threw it in the trash.


April 19th, 2010

Jason D, Scott L:

I feel angry that you believe I’m looking for a way to make all this OK. In no sense am I doing that.

But you are right, Jason, that I (and others) have a sense of disbelief about it. The behavior here – as represented in the complaint – is SO out-of-bounds, so egregious that the defendants’ response could make some really interesting reading, particularly if it is point-by-point. I’m no expert, but I expect a claim that their behavior was entirely within legal bounds, and they will seek dismissal on that basis. And they might get it.

In the meantime, I believe the complaint; I doubt that a single word of it is exaggerated. And I’m really curious how it is going to be defended.

Timothy Kincaid

April 19th, 2010

One thing to consider is that this happened in very gay-friendly Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco. The voters in this county rejected Prop 8 by 2/3.


April 19th, 2010

This stuff happens to straight couples, too. Albeit not to the same extent.


April 19th, 2010

Those people should be treated the same way when they get that age. But of course being Nursing home staff they like they are god and can do what ever they want to the old people. If you own your own home you need to put it into someone else’s name when you get in your mid sixties for at least five years. Before you might end up iin a nursing home run by the Gestopos of the nursing home business. Same with any account where there is any kind of money.


April 19th, 2010

I read the complaint and I stand by what I said. If this is true, it is horrendous. I would add that the complaint describes acts which, if they really occurred as alleged, would constitute serious felonies, including larceny, assault, kidnapping, fraud and possibly perjury.

But the complaint, just like the press release, leaves serious questions as to whether we are getting the whole story.

For example, the complaint says that Clay was, without any court order and purely on the whim of the county, forced into a facility and kept behind a locked gate from April through November 2008. Later on, the complaint says that in June or July of 2008, the county went to the couple’s home and forcibly removed their 2 cats. The complaint says that when Clay objected to the county taking the cats, a county employee pushed him to the ground.

Maybe that ghastly incident did indeed happen, but if it did, that would mean that Clay was not imprisoned in a facility behind a locked gate, but was at his home, futilely defending the cats.

Beyond that, the complaint mentions that Clay had friends and family. Why has no one called the police to report a kidnapping?

This might turn out to be the worst case of elder abuse in Sonoma County, but I think I’ll wait to hear the other side before I conclude anything.


April 19th, 2010

What’s bothering me, it’s not just that the county have done such harm to the couple. But there are among LGBT blogger/so-claim-activists themselves are instead slamming the couple for “trying to behave like heterosexuals”, and this is what they deserve. So much apathy existed………………

btw, the news about this case is different in some anti-gay websites.

@Tim, you reminded me of a quote:
“In extreme situations when human lives and dignity are at stake, neutrality is a sin. It helps the killers, not the victims.”
-Elie Wiesel

Trying to make yourself like you are neutral in this matter doesn’t make you sound objective, or smart, or wise. Because that just will only strengthen the anti-gay and anti-elderly message that this case presented.


April 19th, 2010

@ Tim, also, if you wanted to analyze the case properly, remember: The whole thing happened in just three months, and they are elderly who usually doesn’t have the same haste and strength to fight back just like young people.

Not just that, Clay and Harold are also elderly couple who lives away from the family. Clay probably have done a lot of things himself. But the length of bureaucracy of trying to make one event to happen, doesn’t just happen instantly, or in a few days. It probably took weeks for Clay to even get a hearing in the court, in which was only being turned down anyway.

I just know that there are no other side to this story, because the length of the time it happens was only three months. That is VERY VERY short, and probably not enough for Clay to do everything he could.

If it happens for three years, now I guess there is another side of this story.

btw, have BTB started to monitor this case on anti-gay website? Check it out….the stories are good :)


April 19th, 2010


It’s also incredibly unwise to speak when ignorant (not you, I mean Tim).

Tim is right – until we know everything about what’s going on here, it’s foolish to rave one opinion. Your quote applies to when we know full well the entire story.

That’s not to say I’m not going to stay vigilant about this (I’m actually looking for contact information for anyone involved to demand exactly what is going on), but, for the pure sake of argument (though I doubt it), let’s say that we find out that we’re in the wrong and the events don’t seem to logically match up because it was actually blown out of proportion?

Scepticism is not a fault but a prudent action.


April 19th, 2010


My above comment was made before you posted your second.

If it comes off as inappropriate, that’s why.


April 19th, 2010

Some things about this story puzzled me as well; however, thousands of smaller abuses go on in hospitals every day which are horrifying but never make the news. Against that background, I can believe something like this is possible. And if even part of this complaint is true, I hope heads roll.

Even when there’s no prejudice involved, it can be extremely difficult to get individual hospital staff to acknowledge a power of attorney. They may be inexperienced, uninformed, on a power trip, or just plain stupid and vindictive. Communication between wards, shifts, and doctors is usually minimal to non-existent. There’s often an us-vs-them mentality towards patients and their families.

For anyone who has not yet dealt with this in a big way, I have some advice. If you ever find yourself responsible for a seriously ill partner, parent, sibling, etc., be prepared to become a full-time medical social worker with only one client. Get a small pocket calendar with enough room to make notes for each day, and keep it with you all the time. Jot down everything relevant to your loved one’s treatment: the name of every doctor they see, the name and phone number of every nurse, technician, social worker, physical therapist, etc.; the date and time you spoke to these people, and what they said; the date and time of every test; the date and time of admission to a different hospital or ward; anything you notice yourself about anything — including how the patient seems to be doing. Keep all the names and numbers cross-indexed in the back of the calendar. And keep hard copies of your POA and any other paperwork with you at all times as well.

Introduce yourself to all the staff; bite your tongue if they’re rude to you personally. Make it clear that you will be stopping by frequently. If your loved one has a complaint about their care, try to arrange a bedside talk with the offending parties and their supervisor, so that they know whose side you’re on, and can’t deny the discussion took place. Be all sweetness and light and diplomacy, but let them see you taking notes.

If you are caring for someone who is elderly or will need a significant amount of living assistance after being discharged, count on the social worker to jump in and give you a lot of financial advice that may be completely inappropriate, because they never asked basic preliminary questions. Be prepared for the social worker to try to steer you towards whatever’s cheapest and easiest, because they assume that’s what you want. Be prepared for comments like, “Wow, it’s great that you’re here every day. Usually the family’s never around.” The default assumption will be that you don’t care very much. Maybe that’s because hospital staff see a lot of neglect, or maybe it’s because the job has hardened them, and they project that quality onto patients’ relatives.

Whatever the reason, it’s crucial to impress on the staff, all of them, that you do care, a lot, and that they will have to deal with you and your lawyer if they ever screw up. And to make that last clear in a nice, non-threatening way so they don’t take it out on your partner or your elderly father after you go home.


April 20th, 2010

Well, the question that still lingers in my head, is whether this kind of abuse, happens to all elderly?

Are unmarried, straight, elderly couple experience the same thing as well? I hope somebody gives me insight on this, as I am not familiar with Americans laws.


April 20th, 2010

There is a jaw-dropping passage in the complaint that — if true — should be enough to cause someone to be toasted alive and ground into dust.

After removing all of plaintiff Greene’s personal belongings from his private residence, but before placing plaintiff Greene at [the secured residential facility], defendant County left plaintiff Greene at his private residence from some days, alone and without any of of his household processions, including but not limited to bedding or a bed for sleeping.

Never mind the rest of what is a litany of abusive and high-handed behaviour by what is supposedly a public advocate for the elderly … they left a 77 year old man alone at home without even a bed to sleep in???



@Tim: the complaint alleges that efforts by friends and family were frustrated by the defendants. It certainly appears, on reading, that no efforts were made to enable Greene to maintain his social network (let alone enable him to visit Scull etc).


April 20th, 2010

The case has just enter New York Times


April 20th, 2010

I have no difficulty at all believing that this happened exactly as described, even without hearing what the county authorities have to say. It’s a horrible case, but not as unusual as you would think in the nightmare world of government appointed “guardians” for the elderly and disabled. The Washington Post ran an extensive series back in 2002 about the abuses in the DC guardianship program. They exposed a number of well-documented cases very similar to this, where elderly people lost their life savings and possessions to greedy court guardians, while their families and friends protested helplessly.

That series left me terrified about growing older in the District. But I now realize these abuses exist everywhere.

Just do a quick google search on “court-appointed guardian abuse” and you’ll have your eyes opened on this dark underbelly of our legal system.


April 20th, 2010

It is really interesting to me that this case seems only to be reported on blogs. None of the SF Bay Area Newspapers seem to have any mention of it.


April 20th, 2010

In response to doubters, there is a post on the NCLR blog:


April 20th, 2010


I don’t know where you got the idea that I am “neutral”. I said very clearly that if the complaint is true, the conduct by the county agents would constitute multiple serious felonies and the case itself would probably be the worst case of elder abuse perpetrated in Sonoma County. That isn’t neutral. But there remains the entirely separate question of what actually happened. Until that is clarified, the condemnation has to be conditional. It isn’t right to say that if a complaint is terrible enough, then it must be true. Facts determine whether it is true, not the allegations themselves.


The complaint says that the county frustrated or limited Clay’s communication with friends and family, but that doesn’t explain why, when Clay suddenly disappeared from his home and was imprisoned from April – November 2008 (except for the time in July when he for some reason was back in his home defending the cats), not one person contacted the police to report a missing person.


April 20th, 2010

The Press Democrat (local Sonoma County paper) is now carrying the story. The county (defendants) are claiming Harold was the subject of abuse by Clay, and that formed the basis for the county’s actions. The plaintiff’s attorneys balk at that:


April 20th, 2010

Oooo…two different opinions….now this should be good for a movie material :D


April 20th, 2010

The Joe.My.God blog has more details about this case.

Here are some select quotes:

On or about June 28 and continuing through August 2008, Defendants ACV, DILLINGHAM, COUNTY, LIEDHOLM, STAGG-HOURIGAN, BREWSTER, and others and each of them, did not allow Plaintiff GREENE access to [Harold Scull], his partner of 25 years, who was terminally ill. On or about June 28 and continuing through August 2008, Defendants ACV, DILLINGHAM, COUNTY, LIEDHOLM, STAGG-HOURIGAN, BREWSTER, and others and each of them, falsely imprisoned Plaintiff GREENE, keeping him behind a locked gate at Defendant ACV’s premises and restricting and limiting his movements and communications with his friends, family, and the general public…. Plaintiff was put in fear of physical harm, was and felt intimidated and attacked, and remains fearful that he will be chased down and locked up again. On or about August, 2008, Defendants MICHAEL BREWSTER and KAREN STAGG-HOURIGAN, as employees of the COUNTY acting in their official capacities… did disparage and demean Plaintiff GREENE in his presence and in the presence of others, making and/or ratifying derogatory references to Plaintiff GREENE’s sexual orientation and age, stating “you know how those ‘gay boys’ are”… After [Harold Scull’s] death, Defendants BREWSTER and STAGG-HOURIGAN further expressed displeasure at dealing with expressions of grief by a gay man who had lost his long-time partner.

Meanwhile Joe.My.God reader Rick, suspecting that this abuse was the work of evangelicals, uncovered this little biography of the wife of defendant Michael Brewster.

Leilani Brewster grew up in San Jose, CA and graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Business Administration. She is happily married to Michael Brewster, a Deputy Conservator for Sonoma County. Leilani has held a variety of jobs, one of which was volunteering at San Jose Juvenile Hall as Assistant Chaplain. Her aim was to enhance the lives of the young people she counseled. She did this for 10 years. Leilani’s motto for her life: “As a Christian, I take seriously the commandment to love God and to love my neighbor as myself.” This belief motivates her to help and encourage people. When she lived in San Jose, she distributed the neighborhood newsletter. This allowed her to get to know her neighbors and as the years went by, watched all of the neighborhood children grow up. Her interests now include membership in an ecumenical Bible Study group numbering 300 women. She enjoys meeting women of different faiths and viewpoints.

Here’s a link to the full complaint (PDF)


April 21st, 2010

The story is on the front page this morning. It is very cursory. (Wed., April 21.)

As Grant (above) notes, the county claims domestic abuse as the basis for their behavior.

But where I live, domestic abuse resulting in injury requires an immediate arrest. I can’t find mention that Clay Greene was ever arrested.

Further, if injuries to Scull, supposedly inflicted by Greene, contributed to Scull’s death, Greene would have been arrested on a homicide charge. I find no record or mention that such charges were lodged against him.

The search function at the paper is execrable; I can’t even find an obituary for Harold Scull.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts

The Things You Learn from the Internet

"The Intel On This Wasn't 100 Percent"

From Fake News To Real Bullets: This Is The New Normal

NC Gov McCrory Throws In The Towel

Colorado Store Manager Verbally Attacks "Faggot That Voted For Hillary" In Front of 4-Year-Old Son

Associated Press Updates "Alt-Right" Usage Guide

A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Baptist Churches in Dallas, Austin Expelled Over LGBT-Affirming Stance

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.