POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Police believe a contract employee at a hospital in Southeast Missouri pulled the toenails from a disabled, helpless patient -- a former sheriff hospitalized in the intensive care unit.
Authorities are seeking charges against an employee who worked at Three Rivers Healthcare in Poplar Bluff, but they would not release his name or say what job he held.
No arrest has been made, and police had no motive.
The Butler County prosecutor was reviewing the case.
The victim was Nathan Hale, who served as Wayne County's sheriff before resigning because of poor health in March 1998. Hale, in his early 60s, suffers from a rare degenerative disease of the spine and a heart condition. Officials said he can no longer speak and is essentially defenseless.
Police gave this account:
On Oct. 2, Hale complained of pain in his left arm and shoulder and was taken by ambulance from his home in Piedmont, Mo., to the hospital. An assessment after his arrival showed no injuries to his feet or toes.
Two days later, Hale was transferred to the intensive care unit. Hale's wife, Carol, arrived at the hospital about an hour after learning her husband had been placed in ICU.
"A short time later, she observed that several of his toenails had been removed and were in a bloody condition," Poplar Bluff detective Tim Davis said.
Carol Hale alerted hospital officials but went to police after she said the hospital was slow to respond.
She felt like the hospital staff was being evasive with her and not giving her any clear information or answers, Davis said.
Authorities learned of the incident Oct. 10 after a call from Wayne County Sheriff Larry Plunkett, police Capt. Cliff Morris said.
Morris said police were never told of the allegations by the hospital. But Greg Carda, interim chief executive at the hospital, said, "As soon as we were made aware of this unfortunate apparent incident, we immediately began an independent internal review.
"All appropriate local and state authorities were informed. We are cooperating fully and working closely with them to ensure a resolution to this matter."
An ICU registered nurse said the toenails already were missing when he took over Hale's care. Police declined to call the nurse a suspect, but said he decided not to take a voice stress analysis and had hired an attorney.
Hale was shown a driver's license photo of the suspect and indicated "that was the person who hurt him," police said.
Hale since has transferred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.