By Mike Beaudet
Video of a disabled teen tied down and given painful electric shocks for seven hours should be made public, the youth’s mother said, so everyone can see what she describes as the “torture” her son went through at the controversial school, the only one in Massachusetts that uses pain to treat its clients.
“This is worse than a nightmare,” Cheryl McCollins said about her disabled son, Andre. “It is horrific. And poor Andre, who had to suffer through this, and not know why.”
The ordeal began after Andre hit a staff member. Inside a classroom, as a camera was recording, he was tied to a restraint board, face down, a helmet over his head.
He stayed like that for seven hours without a break, no food, no water, or trips to the bathroom. Each time he screamed or tensed up, he was shocked, 31 times in all. His mother called the next day to check on him.
“I said, ‘Andre.’ I said, ‘Hello.’ And so he said, ‘Help me,'” McCollins said.
After spending three days in a comatose state, not eating or drinking, Andre was taken to Children’s Hospital, where he was diagnosed with “acute stress response” caused by the shocks.
“The doctors took all the shackles and all those things off of him. Andre’s not talking to me. I’m just holding him and telling him how much I love him, and asking him please to talk to me, just tell me what happened,” McCollins said.
What happened that morning in October 2002 became clear after the Rotenberg Center showed her the video of Andre’s ordeal, recorded by the classroom camera.
“When I viewed the tape, I saw Andre walking into a room, someone asking him to take off his coat. Andre said no, they shocked him, he went underneath the table trying to get away from them. They pulled him out, tied him up and they continued to shock him,” McCollins said.
“When you look at that videotape, what was the purpose of all those shocks?” asked FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
“I have no idea,” McCollins replied. “Did you get an apology?” Beaudet asked. “No, they felt what they did was therapy,” McCollins replied. “Does that look like therapy to you?” Beaudet asked. “No, it was torture,” McCollins said.
For now, the public can’t see for themselves what Andre’s treatment looks like because the Rotenberg Center asked a Norfolk Superior Court judge to seal the video tape, saying it would be unsettling for viewers who didn’t understand the context. The judge agreed, and the video remains under a protective order.
“This is video they fought vehemently not to release, fought vehemently to keep quiet and I think now are very concerned that this tape is out there,” said attorney Andrew Meyer, who represents Andre McCollins in a lawsuit against the Rotenberg Center.
“The Judge Rotenberg Center has consistently gotten away with being able to soft sell their treatment, to whitewash what they’ve done about it being therapeutic: ‘It’s not so bad, it helps these children.’ But the eyewitness accounts that we now have about what actually goes on at this center puts to lie everything they’ve been saying,” Meyer said.
But not everyone agrees. When asked about the perception that electric shock therapy is torture, school attorney Michael Flammia said, “Absolutely wrong.”
Flammia would not talk about Andre McCollins.
“But I can tell you I’m familiar with every kid who has been at the school, who have been at the school over 20 years and I can promise you the treatment here is safe, it’s effective, it’s administered properly and every kid has benefited enormously from it,” Flammia said.
“We talked with a parent who says, ‘Put that video out there, let the public see what happened to my son here. Let them see what she calls torture,'” asked FOX Undercover’s Beaudet.
“The matter is in the hands of the courts and we have complete confidence in the court system on that particular matter,” Flammia replied.
“So you don’t want us to see that video?” Beaudet asked. “It’s in the hands of the court,” Flammia replied. But McCollins says the public needs to see the video of what happened to her son.
“I hope this stops it. I hope this tape being exposed puts an end to this torture. Because I feel it. You watch it, you feel it,” McCollins said. “How do we sit here and let this go on?”
It’s certainly getting tougher for the Rotenberg Center to use these shocks.
New York and Massachusetts recently barred shocks on new students, though the school is fighting those restrictions in New York and is planning to do so here.
This is also not the first time this kind of video has become a problem for the center. Last year, the school’s founder, Matthew Israel, was indicted on charges that he ordered video of improperly shocked students to be erased despite an ongoing investigation.
Israel agreed to a deal that gives him pre-trial probation in exchange for his stepping down from the school.