Sunday, September 1, 2013

Michigan Facilitated Communication lawsuit by parents may proceed

In November 2007, a man from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, was accused of raping his 14-year-old autistic daughter based on statements that she allegedly made through facilitated communication. Facilitated communication is a controversial and largely discredited technique that supposedly allows a non-verbal person to communicate through a facilitator who assists the person in typing out messages on a keyboard. 

The man's wife was accused of knowing about the abuse but not doing anything about it. The girl's brother who has Asperger's Syndrome was questioned by the police without a lawyer or guardian present and was told by his interrogator that there was incriminating evidence that proved that the rapes had taken place and that implicated the brother in the abuse. The story told him by the police turned out to be entirely fabricated.

The man spent 80 days in jail, his wife was placed on an electronic tether, and both children were placed in foster care. The case was eventually dismissed; there was no physical evidence that a rape had ever occurred and the facilitator was shown to be the author of the allegations, not the autistic girl.  The parents sued the school district, the police, the prosecutors, and the Michigan Department of Human Services. The police settled the suit for $1.8 million, while the others involved claimed governmental immunity. 

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, "West Bloomfield parents allowed to sue prosecutors over faulty sex-abuse case" by John Wisely, 8/29/13, an appeals court said "governmental immunity doesn’t shield Oakland County prosecutors, Walled Lake Consolidated Schools officials and staffers from the Michigan Department of Human Services from liability for their actions in the case." The parents' lawsuit claiming that their constitutional rights were violated may now proceed to trial.

The case was flawed from the start because of its reliance on evidence from Facilitated Communication. The Judge was especially critical of the prosecutors for allowing the girl's brother to be questioned: "'It was objectively unreasonable for Dean and Carley [the prosecutors] to subject (the brother) to an interview of this type without consent,' the court ruled."

The Court also found that Rebecca Robydek, a social worker with the state Department of Human Services who placed the children in foster care, could not claim governmental immunity. The court ruled that “Robydek’s actions are especially troubling in this situation given the multiple documented errors in the facilitated statement used as the sole basis for Robydek’s recommendation.”

No comments: