OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A well-known Oklahoma City community activist was taken into custody following allegations of elder neglect.
Court documents state that on July 11, the Oklahoma City Police Department was called to the home of 94-year-old Katherine Burkhalter.
Nurses with Kindful Hospice had called officers there, claiming Michael Washington was not letting them in to attend to Katherine.
“First of all, I think it’s a bunch of malarkey,” Washington said, slamming down the allegations. “It’s a bunch of foolishness.”
Court documents say the nurses said, “Katherine’s vitals were dangerously low,” adding that “she was dehydrated and severely malnourished,” and she required “immediate transport to a hospital.”
Washington told KFOR he met Katherine in 2011 at the grocery store and they became good friends.
He said they eventually formed an arrangement where he would live with her and take care of her if she allowed him to live in her home for free.
Katherine’s son, Byron Burkhalter, told KFOR he was aware that Washington was a caretaker of his mother, but that professional healthcare workers were also working with her.
“We were establishing an overall care team,” Byron said.
The son said he hired Kindful Hospice to check in on Katherine starting in March 2022, after he believed her health had declined to the point that she may die soon.
Byron told KFOR he was in town on July 11 and witnessed police retrieving his mother from her home, describing Washington as “belligerent” and “threatening,” and claiming “it took hours.”
“When they pulled her out, it was 105 degrees in the house,” he said, while noting the working air conditioner was not turned on.
“He had left her with a water bottle that was hot and that she couldn’t reach. The last time we could tell that she had been changed was three days before. She was in her own fluids. There was a boil on the back of her head. There were bedbugs. There were cockroaches around.”
The Kindful Hospice employees said, “Katherine’s health began to decline over the last 4 – 5 months, and it is attributed to Michael’s neglect… when they would arrive at the home, they would often have to wait for Michael to get back home, sometimes waiting up to an hour.”
Court documents say the hospice nurses told police, “the home is disgusting and in disarray. They spoke about the basement being flooded with standing water, mold on the walls, roaches in the home, walls falling, air conditioner turned off, refrigerator not working, and the home being trashed and unsafe in the event of an emergency.”
They also claimed “they saw bank statements, money orders, and other financial documents they believe are being used to possibly exploit Katherine.”
Washington said during the July 11 encounter with police, he told Byron that he’s an absent son, is not allowed in the house, and gets no voice in Katherine’s life.
“Upon seeing him in our yard, I said, ‘Hold on, man. You’re not welcome, dude,’” Washington said. “I’ve been here with her, providing for her for 11 years, her medical procedures, cleaning her house, taking her to get her medicines and cooking for her and washing her clothes for 11 years and where were you?”
Byron says that his mother had a community of various family, friends, neighbors, and fellow churchgoers attending to her over the years, but claims Washington was shutting people out of her life increasingly.
“He wants to control her,” he said. “He and he alone was her answer. He and he alone was her savior.”
Byron said he has moved his mother, who has Alzheimer-dementia, to an assisted living home now. He said he’s also trying to get her house and car keys back from Washington.
“He wants her under his control because otherwise he has a weak claim to the house and the car,” Byron said. “The only way that he has housing and transportation, he has to get her and get her back into the house. That’s where his problem lies. We can’t get her photos, we can’t get her pocketbook or records. We don’t know what’s going on inside her house. The way that I read it, he doesn’t really seem to have the ability to care for her. He seems to have a decent ability to think about himself.”
Washington told KFOR Tuesday he will not give the keys back.
“I’m not giving him anything because he don’t deserve it,” he said. “Their mindset is, Oh, we’ve got a house now. She’s gone now. We can sell this, now. We can make some money now. That’s all that is, is a financial incentive for this guy.”
He also plans to take legal action against Byron, Kindful Hospice, the Oklahoma City Police Department, and the City of Oklahoma City.
“Darn right I’m going to sue for this. My reputation is tarnished.”
Washington defended himself against the accusations, for one, saying Katherine liked the house hot.
“To her, she felt comfortable,” he said. “Now at times she would say, ‘Hey, man, it’s too hot. Cool it off, turn on the air conditioner. But I’m in her house. There’s no kind of way in my God-given sense — being the leader that I am — I was going to say, ‘OK lady, let me just burn you on up in here.’”
Washington also said the basement’s less-than-ideal state was due to an earthquake and that the refrigerator wasn’t on because he was defrosting it.
As for accusations of financial exploitation he said the following.
“I don’t control the finances, never have. And for me to be driving a 1989 car, shouldn’t I have a 2020 or something like that? That’s totally absurd.”
This week, Washington was arrested and booked into the Oklahoma County Detention Center.