Nicholas Klein, Hills, cried when he looked at photographs of his elderly neighbors who were beaten and bruised.
He cried, he said, because knows he’s responsible for the horrific injuries of Bud and Shirley Hoogeveen.
“I’ve never hit anyone in my life,” said Klein, 38, who was charged with multiple counts of felony assault for their injuries.
“I’ve got a mouth, and I’ve done a lot of yelling,” he said, admitting that there have been 13 years of neighborly disputes between him and the Hoogeveens.
“But I take pride in the fact that it never got physical.”
That is, until the events of Jan. 17, 2011.
On that day, witnesses saw Klein attack his neighbor, Bud, when he drove into his driveway.
Screaming and “foaming at the mouth,” police reports say witnesses saw him open Bud’s pickup door and drag him out of the cab, punching him in the face.
He pounded Bud’s head into the ground while Shirley came running out of the house to come to her husband’s aid — only to have Klein turn on her.
Today, Klein said he himself is shocked to read the facts of the case, and he accepts that he’s the perpetratormentioned in the court documents.
But he’s not ready to accept full responsibility.
A good share of that responsibility, he said, lies with Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls — and he’s filing a medical malpractice suit to prove it.
Through media coverage of the assaults, the facts of the day are widely known.
But what most people don’t know, he said, is that he’d been hospitalized four hours prior to the assaults, and he shouldn’t have been released, given his mental state.
What most people don’t know, he said, is that he himself had been assaulted (and hadn’t hit back) in Sioux Falls on Jan. 16, and a punch to his throat had required intubation.
Sedatives used to perform the procedure adversely reacted with the medications he was already on. “Looking back, I know I was starting to flip out in the hospital,” Klein said.
Specifically, the medications had clear warnings that taking them together could cause agitation, mood altering and even blackouts.
Klein said he had the worst possible reaction.
In fact, he said the last thing he remembers is the intubation at Sanford.
He said he has no recollection of leaving Sanford or the events that landed him in Avera hospital.
“That’s the next thing I remember,” he said about finding himself in Avera (tethered to his bed) several days after the Jan. 17 assaults.
But the sordid details were quickly provided to him and he’s spent the better part of the last six months as a criminal defendant.
‘Sanford should have never let me go’
Now that his criminal case is cleared, Klein said he isn’t wasting time launching his civil suit against Sanford.
In his medical paperwork, the records state that Klein (in what he claims was an altered state) told Sanford personnel he was leaving Jan. 16, against medical advice.
Legally they couldn’t make him stay, but he said policy requires a face-to-face exit interview with a doctor before release.
“Any doctor would have picked up on the fact that I wasn’t right,” Klein said. “Sanford should not have let me leave that hospital.”
As it happened, though, he said he walked out of the hospital, got in his car, drove to his mother’s in Sioux Falls where he stole a bottle of rum and proceeded to his house in Hills.
There, he poured a drink, crushed prescription pills and mixed it all together with liquid Tylenol in what he said was an attempt to end his life.
‘I would have attacked my own grandmother’
Klein said it’s important to note that medical examiners have concluded this concoction, while harmful, had no bearing on the attacks.
Klein said the medical facts of his file clearly state he was already “flipped out,” and on a path of destruction before even drinking the cocktail that he hoped would end his life.
This is according to the mental evaluation presented to the courts, which ended up acquitting him of his charges.
“Doctors said my history with the Hoogeveens had no bearing on the attack,” Klein said.
“I would have attacked my own grandmother if I had stopped there first … I’m really grateful it wasn’t 3 in the afternoon on a school day, because I might have hurt some kids.”
The arrest report states Klein had tried to attack the home health nurse who was checking in on his grandmother.
But she locked herself in the car and called for help — witnessing the entire attack on the Hoogeveens while she waited for help to arrive.
Klein said police reports of her accounts describe a man who was out of his mind.
“It was January. I was wearing jeans and t-shirt and no shoes,” he said. “I was writing in the snow.”
By the time his mental state had leveled off, he found himself an accused assailant.
“And now I’m going to be known as the man who beat up an elderly couple and got away with it,” Klein said.
He “got away with it” because on June 29 in Rock County District Court, a judge accepted an Alford Plea.
The plea is used in cases where the accused doesn’t admit the act, but admits the prosecution would likely prove the charge. It allows the defendant to plead guilty even while not admitting guilt.
In Klein’s case the judge considered his mental condition — that Klein was “suffering under a mental defect at the time of the incident which made him unable to understand that his actions were wrong” — and accepted the Alford Plea.
The result is that there are no criminal penalties for the assaults, something the Hoogeveens are angry about.
“All the charges are gone because of what the psychiatrist said,” Shirley said in July.
Klein: Neighborly disputes fueled by gay hatred
The fact that Klein is cleared of criminal responsibility for his actions doesn’t mean he’s living free of repercussions.
He said the events of Jan. 17, 2011, are a major setback after what he said has been years of hard work to accomplish something positive with his life.
As an openly gay man living in a small conservative town, Klein said life has been a struggle.
In 1994 he learned he was HIV-positive, and in 2004 he was diagnosed with AIDS.
Believing he didn’t have long to live, he moved from South Beach, Fla., to Hills to be closer to family.
In the years since then, he said he worked hard to improve the property, and recently completed a four-year college degree.
“People who know about the Hoogeveens ask me why I don’t just move,” Klein said. “But I can’t. I have too much invested here. I’m also trapped.”
Meanwhile his health continues to remain stable, but he said his mental health has been compromised by chronic neighborly disputes that he said are driven by gay and AIDs bias.
He said he didn’t want to elaborate on the hatred, because it would take a book.
And that, he said, will be his next project.
“I’m writing a book about all this,” he said about his life as a gay man in Hills, about the assaults and about his current suit against Sanford.
“I’m putting it all down and I’m naming names.”
Klein’s suit against Sanford is not yet filed, but he said he is currently working with attorneys who are studying the case.