Shain Neimeier's report for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network on the continuing efforts to ban electrical shocks at the Judge Rotenberg Center includes some disturbing allegations from former JRC teacher Gregory Miller:
In talking to people at the State House, it was inevitable that Representative Jeffrey Sanchez’s nephew Brandon, who has been attending JRC since before it started using contingent electric shock as an aversive and who has been on the shock devices for over 20 years, would come up. Miller told legislative aides that he had actually worked extensively with Brandon while at JRC, and that his behavior was completely unchanged by the use of contingent electric shock. In particular, he talked about five or six weeks periods where Brandon would be put on what JRC called “GED vacations” so his skin could heal from all scabs and minor burns caused by the shocks, and how he was his behavior was neither better nor worse during these periods. When he asked his supervisors why Brandon was still receiving shocks, Miller was told that it was for “political reasons” – if Brandon was thought to no longer need the shocks, JRC would lose its support from the state legislature. Miller also addressed comments made by Brandon’s father, Representative Sanchez’s brother, at legislative hearings over past attempts to ban aversives, to the effect that he “would rather blow [Brandon’s] brains out” rather than see him go off the shock device. “Before you kill him,” he told legislative aides, with the intention of these words reaching the Sanchez family, “Send him to me.”
Especially if you live in Massachusetts, it is important that you take action to help end this practice, which the United Nations is asking the federal government to investigate as torture.
From Shain's article:
The conference committee will likely make its decision on Amendment #548, as well as the less restrictive compromise ban established by Amendment #555. ASAN would encourage Massachusetts residents to (continue to) call and email the members of the conference committee in order to express their support for #548 in order to ensure a total ban on the use of electric shock and other aversives so as to effectively protect the human rights of people with disabilities. The conference committee members’ contact information can be found at the link below:
Law student Shain Neumeir's series on Cheryl McCollin's lawsuit against the Judge Rotenberg Center combines reporting and analysis in a way that has been consistently fascinating and enlightening. The third piece discusses the fact that Andre McCollins had been sexually abused at another facility and that the restraint he underwent at the JRC might have increased the trauma from that event:
Andre’s sexual abuse at this facility, which is one of the Devereaux residential programs, was an issue that quite possibly cut against the defense in the end because of the connections that could be and were drawn between it and the events of 25 October 2002. As Dr. Whaley told plaintiff’s counsel Benjamin Novotny and the jury on redirect, the position that Andre was restrained in was “very reminiscent” of sexual assault, especially with members of staff straddling him and, at one point, removing his pants in order to put him in a diaper. This, according to the witness, put Andre at risk for retraumatization. Furthermore, through cross-examination, it came out that, following his sexual assault at Devereaux, Andre began to speak incoherently as a result of the trauma he experienced there… a behavior that resumed after what happened to him at JRC, and has continued ever since. While the intent of defense counsel in addressing Andre’s sexual assault was likely to cast doubt on whether the harm to Andre was actually caused by his experience at JRC, the plaintiff used this information to show how JRC may have in fact compounded his trauma when they should have known better.
McCollins' attorney Benjamin Novotny unsuccessfully tried to suggest that the JRC had not fully informed his client of the risks to her son because they did not tell her about prior deaths at the center:
Mr. Novotny also attempted to delve into the issue of how informed the consent to the use of aversives truly could have been based on the information provided to parents and guardians of prospective JRC clients, which included questions on the permanent side effects of aversives and prior deaths at JRC. The defense objected to this, which resulted in a sidebar discussion between the parties and the judge and then an open argument outside the presence of the jury over whether this evidence should be allowed in. The defense argued that this informed consent argument was new to them, and had not been properly raised in prior documents leading up to the trial. Plaintiff’s counsel, on the other hand, pointed to mention of it in the pretrial memorandum. With regards to the substantive issues, the plaintiff insisted that it was incumbent on JRC, as the only program to use aversives in the way it does and thus the only real gatekeeper, to provide all relevant information, including that on deaths and injuries resulting from its treatment. The defense countered that the deaths that had happened at the program had not been the result of aversives, and thus the information was irrelevant. The judge tentatively, and then later permanently, prevented plaintiff’s counsel from exploring the issue any further.
Novotny did get expert witness Dr. Marc Whaley to confirm that many of the things that Andre's plan allowed him to be shocked for were typical of his autism:
The redirect also allowed for a brief exploration of Andre’s behavioral plan in JRC in general, which included the other behaviors for which he could be shocked. In addition to aggressive behaviors, the GED could be used in response to “major disruptive behaviors” such as yelling, screaming and swearing; “noncompliant behaviors” such as one referred to as “blatant ‘no’”; and behaviors defined as inappropriate such as handclapping, talking out of turn, nagging and talking to himself. When asked whether some of these behaviors were common in Autistic people, Dr. Whaley answered yes – “in spades.”
Shain Neumeier's second report for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network on Cheryl McCollins' lawsuit against the Judge Rotenberg Center includes an interesting discussion of the use of medication, particularly Risperdal:
Mr. O’Connor also touched on one of JRC’s most famous defenses of its use of aversives – the fact that the alternative would be psychotropic medication, which, according to the program, is far more harmful than the use of aversives. In particular, he focused on the side effects of the antipsychotic Risperdal, the only medication that Andre had been on prior to attending JRC… side effects that can include permanent neurological problems related to movement in the form of a condition called tardive dyskinesia. He also used the fact that psychotropic drug manufacturing companies put out promotional materials in an attempt to show that JRC’s promotional video, which the plaintiff had argued had misled her in her decision to place Andre at the facility, was, if not acceptable, than at least not out of the ordinary. Finally, O’Connor used the discussion of psychotropic medication to call into question Dr. Whaley’s qualifications to speak about the use of aversives. Medications, argued the attorney through his questioning, were what a psychiatrist such as Dr. Whaley used in his practice, and Dr. Whaley was not trained or experienced in the use of aversives such as those at the JRC. Dr. Whaley rebutted this, stating that prescribing medication was only part of what he did as a psychiatrist (which included using behavioral methods in counseling and prescribing a medication that served as an aversive to people with alcoholism), while still insisting that taking Andre off Risperdal while he was at JRC had been a “terrible idea.”
I have been very clear about my concerns regarding Risperdal and autism, but I want to be equally clear about this: medication is a better choice than torture.
Law student Shain Neumeier is reporting for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network on Cheryl McCollins' lawsuit against the Judge Rotenberg Center. The first installment explains the background of the case and goes into important detail regarding the 31 shocks that McCollins' autistic son Andre received in one day:
During the testimony, counsel showed footage from the incident to Dr. Whaley, who had seen it before, and the jury, who had, for the most part, not. The jury witnessed approximately ten of the 31 shocks that Andre received that day, which were accompanied by him screaming in pain, yelling “no” repeatedly, and, at one point, saying the word “sorry” over and over again, all to no avail. All but one of these shocks, it was revealed, was for tensing up or screaming, in anticipation of or response to shocks or restraints, while the other shock he received was for failure to remove his coat. A number of the shocks that Andre received were delivered through three electrodes – two on his legs and one on his torso. However, at a certain point, JRC staff placed two extra electrodes on Andre, one on each arm. Dr. Whaley’s testimony established that these two additional electrodes were used in violation of Andre’s mother’s consent to his being subject to contingent electric shock, in that she had specifically requested that he not have any electrodes on his arms only shortly before the incident. When asked whether the shocks Andre received could be justified based on a theory that his tensing up could be a precursor to aggressive behavior, the doctor answered that, given that Andre was already restrained, they were unnecessary and unjustified… or, as he put it in a remark which was stricken from the record, like something out of the 1800’s.