Family's plea for help turned away, and death soon follows
(FOX25 / MyFoxBoston) Mike Beaudet
Mike Beaudet Kevin Rothstein, Producer
Her son, the baby of the family, was in handcuffs before a judge, tricked into being arrested by his mother.
Pauline MacDougall was in Boston Municipal Court trying to get her son Clinton MacDougall “sectioned." To do so, she had to convince a judge the Charlestown native had a raging heroin addiction that was so dangerous he needed to be locked up against his will.
“I'm his mother. I love him. I want to help him,” she sobbed to the judge during the Oct. 2012 hearing. “I don't want to lose him. Please, I'm asking you to give him some help. He's gonna, he tells me all the time, ‘I hate my life.’ He wants to kill himself.”
At first, Pauline MacDougall was hopeful. When Clinton had been picked up in Charlestown earlier that morning, she was sure he had gotten high earlier that morning. She and her other son could hear it, they said, from the tell-tale rasp in his voice and the dazed look in his eye.
More evidence, it seemed to them, came from part of the testimony of a court psychologist. During an interview before the court hearing, the psychologist told the judge that Clinton had been nodding off – falling asleep in the middle of their conversation.
But Clinton had another explanation: he told the psychologist he had a sleep disorder, a disorder his family told FOX Undercover they had never heard of.
But to the family’s shock, the psychologist, Dr. Jeff Miner, didn’t see through what they believe were the lies of an addict desperate to stay free and find another fix.
“Unfortunately, Mr. MacDougall is not in the best of shape either right now and I'm not sure what that’s from. I'm going to be honest, he was having trouble staying awake and was slurring his words a little bit back there with me. He says he has a sleep disorder,” Miner told the judge, according to a recording of the hearing obtained by FOX Undercover.
Clinton did his best to convince the judge he didn’t need to be sectioned. He had kicked his habit months ago, he said.
“My mother knows in the past if she's ever thought that I was in serious harm or anything that I would go to a program willingly. I would not have to be sectioned to go to a program.”
In the end, the judge turned him loose. Seven weeks later, he died of an overdose. He was 30.
Clinton MacDougall had been addicted for years, following the familiar trail of drug abuse. First pain pills and then heroin. Word of numerous overdoses he suffered had reached the MacDougalls through friends and contacts in Charlestown.
“I knew that he was going to die or have him arrested to save his life,” said his older brother, Francis MacDougall.
The plan was, on paper, simple. His mother asked her youngest son, the former athlete and stone mason, to come to Charlestown help her move an air conditioner. They went to a Shell gas station on Rutherford Avenue so she could buy him cigarettes. He hadn’t been working, and was broke.
Boston police were waiting. The state law that spells out the process can be found in section 35 of chapter 123 the Massachusetts General Laws, so the hearing is commonly referred to as a section 35 hearing – or simply “sectioned”.
The number of section 35 commitments across the state has almost doubled since 2006, when there were nearly 3,000 of them, compared to more than 5,000 in 2012. In 2012, 7,068 commitments were requested, meaning nearly 1,998 people – 28 percent -- were turned away.
A spokesperson for the trial court would not talk about whether the increase in section 35 commitments and a lack of places to send addicts is putting pressure on judges not to agree to commitments.
Whatever the reason for the trend, the MacDougalls were hopeful when they appeared before
Boston Municipal Court Judge Eleanor Sinnott.
“Did you think, ‘OK, he's going to get better?’” FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked.
“Definitely,” Pauline MacDougall said. “I just assumed, ‘Oh, he's high as a kite. He couldn't even see, was nodding out. Didn't even know who I was when I called him over to my truck.”
But the story wasn’t so clear-cut to Dr. Miner, the court psychologist.
“I'm hearing such huge diverse stories that I don't know what to make of it. You know, if the family is right then he's at the brink of death's door here. If he's telling me right than he doesn't even come near meeting commitment criteria, so I don’t know the answer here,” Miner testified.
Judge Sinnott also saw a near empty pill bottle for Suboxone that had been prescribed to Clinton the day before the hearing. It is prescribed to treat heroin addiction, but is also sold on the street.
Pauline MacDougall believes her son sold the pills to buy heroin, but Clinton told the judge he only carried around the pills he needed for the day – the rest were somewhere else.
In the end, the judge would not agree to send Clinton to a locked treatment facility.
“He does not meet the qualification for this commitment at this time. That's not to say that things can't change,” she said.
Pauline MacDougall was furious.
“He's gonna be dead. Thank you. He's gonna be dead. Thank you very much,” she told the judge.
That was the afternoon of Halloween. On Christmas morning, Pauline learned he was dead.
“I was supposed to pick him up Christmas day to take him with me. Instead I got the phone call that he was gone,” she said in a later interview.
Now, the MacDougalls’ sadness is mixed with anger at the system.
“I just wish my brother had gotten the help that he should have got,” Francis MacDougall said.
“That he was entitled to,” his mother added.
Marcy Julian, a prosecutor and mother of an addict who is active in the addiction support community, told FOX Undercover: “There have been cases unfortunately where, despite the fact that someone is obviously a danger to him or herself, a judge had turned it down. Most judges are pretty good but there are some who just don't seem to get it yet.”
Julian, an assistant district attorney in Hampden County, works with the support group Learn to Cope. She testified recently before a special state Senate committee investigating drug abuse and treatment options in Massachusetts.
She didn’t mince words about the judge who heard the MacDougalls’ plea for help.
“For a judge not to listen to a parent who obviously took a lot of courage to take this step and (is) saying please help me and my family, and to turn a deaf ear towards that is just appalling to me,” she said.
A spokesperson for the trial court refused to answer specific questions about the MacDougall case, instead pointing to the recording of the hearing, which is publicly available.
“The judge's reasoning about the decision, as well the testimony of the parties, can be heard on the recording. The tape speaks for itself,” the court statement said.
The MacDougalls couldn't agree more: the tape speaks for itself.
“He’s doing it with the heroin, he’s trying to take the easy way out,” Pauline said on the tape. “Please help him.”