By Ben Chapman and Corky Siemaszko | New York Daily News | Apr. 12, 2012
Mother suing over treatment of son
Video footage shows a Boston-area clinic using electrical shocks to treat an autistic teen.
“Help! Help! Help me!” yells the Brooklyn teenager, strapped face down on a gurney.
Then, as the electrical current is switched on, he lets out a blood-curdling scream.
That wrenching scene was captured on videotape played in a Boston-area courtroom, where the mother of Andre McCollins is suing the clinic that was supposed to be treating her autistic son.
McCollins, then 18, survived the shock treatment. But The Judge Rotenberg Center fought tooth-and-nail for eight years to prevent that video from being shown.
From the opening frame, it quickly becomes clear why they did.
The teen is seated at a desk as a staffer asks him several times to remove his coat. He says nothing and does nothing — until the juice hits.
Screaming, McCollins falls to the floor where he flails and tries desperately to hide under his desk. Then, a few frames later, we see him restrained face-down, with a helmet on his head — and helpless.
McCollins was shocked a total 31 times on that day in 2002, his lawsuit states.
While doctors at the center insist this was legitimate treatment for aggressive behavior, his mother, Cheryl McCollins, calls it torture.
“I never signed up for him to be tortured, terrorized and abused,” she told the jury Tuesday. “I had no idea, no idea, that they tortured the children in the school.”
The footage is from a classroom camera that was played in a Dedham, Mass., courtroom. It was re-recorded by a FOX news team after Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara denied the center’s request to not air it in open court.
Cheryl McCollins said her son was left catatonic by his ordeal and is suing the three men who supervised the electric shock treatments — and the center itself.
In a statement, the JRC defended what it calls Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED) treatment. It remains the only clinic in the country that still uses electric shock treatments to discipline children.
The Daily News revealed last year that city education officials paid JRC $13 million in 2011 to treat 117 severely disabled children.
A teacher at the center who spoke with the News said even kids being punished for minor infractions like making a mess were zapped.
“It smelled like cooking flesh in there,” the teacher said. “They shock the heck out of the kids. It’s torture.”
In 2010, New York magazine reported, the center paid $100,000 to Rudy Giuliani’s law firm, Bracewell & Giulani, to lobby for the right to keep administering electric shocks.
JRC says on its web site the treatment is to curb “self-mutilating behaviors” and aggressive behavior — and done only with court and parental consent.
The shocks are administered with “a device that produces a temporary, painful (but harmless) skin-sting that is produced by passing electric current through a small area on the surface of the skin,” the site states.
JRC compares it to a “2-second bee sting,” insist there are no side-effects, and claim it’s got a 95% success rate.
Clinic director Matthew Israel resigned last year in a deal that allowed him to avoid jail time for obstructing a probe into a 2007 incident where two teenage patients received dozens of shocks by accident.
The U.S. Justice Department has also been investigating the clinic for possible violations of disability discrimination laws.