OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A well-known Oklahoma City community activist is facing accusations of abuse by caretaker and exploitation of an elderly person.
Many in the metro area may recognize Michael Washington as a big voice in meetings and demonstrations concerning the Oklahoma County Detention Center.
“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 state that on July 11, the Oklahoma City Police Department was called to the home of 94-year-old Katherine Burkhalter, whom Washington lives with and has taken care of for over a decade.
Nurses with Kindful Hospice had called officers there, claiming Washington was not letting them in to attend to Katherine.
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 from Oregon 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.
He continued his defense by telling KFOR he shared responsibility over Katherine’s health with the Kindful Hospice workers.
“The nurses come four days a week,” he said. “That part is not out there, trying to make it look like I’m some weird, crazy person. I myself have actually taken care of her, because of the love that I have for humanity. So, I volunteer. I’m not paid to do this. I’m not assigned by medical. I’m doing the best that I can to provide for her. She couldn’t have been that bad off, for the hospice to remain and let her lay in that setting like that if it was a big problem.”
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.”
He added that he did help Katherine with her finances and would drive her to the bank.
Washington and Byron are now fighting in the Oklahoma County District Court for guardianship over Katherine, with Washington submitting a letter from August 2 he said was from Katherine’s nephew and Byron’s cousin Paul Lehman, reading the first paragraph aloud to KFOR.
“‘For approximately ten years, Mr. Washington has served as caregiver for my aunt, Mrs. Katherine Burkhalter, in her home in Oklahoma City,'” he read. “‘His continued employment was at her request as she enjoyed and appreciated his service to her. During this period, I have observed Mr. Washington to be courteous, dedicated, and professional in his actions and behavior.'”
Byron said at this time, he has filed with the courts to get his mother’s house and car keys back from Washington and to become his mother’s guardian. He is also in the process of filing a protective order for her against Washington.
“I need the system to protect her,” he said. “As long as he’s away and she’s safe, that’s the thing. This is not about Michael. This is about Katherine. We can make sure her circumstances are decent, better than decent, and that she’s getting the care. She can live the life that she has left.”
Tuesday, Washington filed a motion to terminate Byron from being Katherine’s guardian. He is also applying to be the guardian himself.
No criminal charges have been filed against Washington at this time, but the Oklahoma County District Court has issued a search warrant of Burkhalter’s home.
Both Washington and Byron are looking forward to a court hearing in September about the status of guardianship over Katherine.
As for Kindful Hospice, it’s director Kimberly Nightengale said she cannot discuss her patients outside of the course of care, citing the privacy that must be maintained due to HIPAA laws.