SARASOTA, Florida (FloridaToday.news) — A Sarasota-certified nurse assistant is under investigation for allegedly abusing patients in multi-unit nursing homes, according to police.
The Sarasota Police Department said Marco Tulio Ávila Romero, 52, of Sarasota, first came under investigation for indecent and lustful harassment of the elderly and disabled on June 30.
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According to a probable cause statement, police responded to the Fruitville Road facility when a resident reported that Ávila Romero had “inappropriately touched” his genitals.
The mother of the victim told the officers who arrived that the victim was in the facility after a traumatic brain injury, due to which he could not speak.
However, the resident was able to communicate thanks to an eye scanner that reads words for him, police said.
The affidavit states that on June 30, the victim and his family went on a boat trip together, but when they returned to the facility, he did not want to go back to his room.
The victim’s mother asked if he wanted to tell her something, and he shook his head, the officers said.
According to police, the victim was able to “tell that an employee of the institution named Marco touched him” through his pants.
The officers said he repeated the statement to them, saying that the inappropriate touching had been going on for about five weeks.
On the same day, Avila Romero was sent home, and during interrogation, he said that he was only moving the patient away from the window of his room and did not mean to touch him in an inappropriate way.
The suspect’s boss said he told her, “I can’t lose my job because of this; I just pushed him away from the window,” but she found it odd that he didn’t deny the allegations, according to the affidavit.
The officers said the superior told them that the victim was fully aware of what was happening and could report what was happening.
On July 13, the director of the facility told police that Avila Romero had told conflicting stories about the matter. Police said in an email to the director that the suspect said he placed the blood pressure box on the victim’s lap and when he picked it up, the victim “jumped and got upset” at the touch. The suspect then said he apologized and moved on to the next patient.
However, further investigation revealed that this was not the first time Avila Romero had been accused of inappropriately touching patients.
Since 2016, there have been “numerous reports” of a suspect molesting patients in several nursing homes, according to police.
The sworn letter lists seven different incidents at Sarasota Point and Rehab, Manorcare Health Services, Health and Rehabilitation Center Magnolia, Tarpon Point Nursing Rehabilitation Center and Amira Choice Senior Living Facility since 2016.
The victims of previous incidents were reported to have all been men between the ages of 70 and 80. Some of the victims were non-verbal or suffered from dementia, which hindered the investigation.
“Romero pursued numerous victims who failed to report being sexually harassed,” the Sarasota Police Department said.
The incidents were reported by the Venice Police Department, the Sarasota Police Department, and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
No charges were filed and some of the victims died prior to Ávila Romero’s arrest on July 18, 2023. According to an affidavit, one case filed with Amira Choice in May 2023 is still under investigation by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
Sarasota County detectives said they believe Ávila Romero may have had more victims and appealed to the public for help in finding them.
If you have information, call SPD Detective Cox at 941-263-6075 or Crime Squad at 941-366-TIPS. You can also submit information to the Sarasota Crime Stoppers website.