Being restrained and shocked for nearly seven hours at the Judge Rotenberg Center permanently damaged autistic teenager Andre McCollins, a psychiatrist testified in another dramatic day in court on Wednesday featuring more video of his treatment.
"Now we have an individual who's heavily medicated, state institutionalized with no immediate prospect of any kind of independent functioning. And all of that turned on October 25, 2002 when his psychotic disorder was traumatized by the 31 or so shocks he got on that day," Dr. Marc Whaley said, testifying on McCollins' behalf.
Video from the ordeal, recorded by the school's camera and played for the jury in McCollins' civil trial in Norfolk Superior Court, is prompting calls for action from state Senate President Therese Murray and now a top state official is calling for action.
She released a statement tonight saying in part, "This is the only facility in the nation that can practice shock therapy and this video is beyond disturbing. These therapies are inhumane and should not be allowed. The Senate has repeatedly passed legislation to stop this practice and it's time for the entire Legislature to take action."
McCollins' troubles started on a bus ride to school, where McCollins was shocked and put into restraints for assaulting someone. He was shocked again inside a classroom after he refused to take off his jacket, tied to a restraint board and shocked.
The jury watched as McCollins was begging for help and the shocks to stop, all while he was restrained face-down with a helmet on his head.
"There was ample evidence to show this treatment was harming that individual at that time and certainly not helping him," Whaley said. "It's a gross deviation from accepted standards. They're treating him like an object. Just tying him down. Making sure that his arms and legs are fastened, but not engaging and certainly not trying to teach him anything about his behavior."
Whaley watched portions of the video and, under questioning from McCollins' attorney Ben Novotny, described what he saw for the jury.
"He's crying out. Pleading really to not be shocked and those pleadings are ignored," he said.
McCollins was so psychotic, Whaley testified, that it was impossible for him to control his behavior, which is what the shocks, a type of aversive therapy, were intended to do.
"There's no reputable qualified psychologist, psychiatrist that would ever recommend aversive therapy as a treatment for acute psychotic symptoms. That was done in the 1800s," he said.
Lawyers for the Judge Rotenberg Center and several of its doctors say that what happened to McCollins was all part of his court-approved treatment plan.
Under cross examination, Whaley admitted he had only seen about half of the approximately eight hours of videotape.
"Didn't you think if you were an independent expert coming in to try and give a fair opinion a fair opinion to these jurors, you should have looked at the entirety of that tape before you gave an opinion?" asked attorney Edward Hinchey, who represents one of the Rotenberg Center's psychologists.
"Not in this case," Whaley replied.
Cross-examination of Whaley continues Thursday, and Andre's mother Cheryl McCollins is expected to resume her testimony, which began Tuesday.
The Rotenberg Center has declined to comment about the McCollins case, but a public relations firm hired by the Center released a statement tonight saying in part, "JRC educates and treats the most difficult behaviorally involved students in the country and administers the (shocks) to treat severe behavior disorders only after other treatments have failed and a court order is obtained to do so at the request of the student's parents and doctor."
The statement also said, "On the issue of the video tape, the sole reason a recording exists is because JRC maintains cameras in every room where a student may receive treatment. It is the only such facility to do so. This is for the protection of the students in our care and is precisely to enable us to review every application of the (shock device)."