Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Michigan: Parents settle lawsuit against school district in dismissed rape case

The parents of an autistic girl have reached a settlement with the girl's school district, Walled Lake Schools in Oakland County, Michigan (northwest of Detroit), in a lawsuit that involved accusations of rape and abuse against the parents that were communicated through facilitated communication (FC, or facilitated typing, as it is sometimes called).

Facilitated communication is a largely discredited communication technique, especially when it has been offered as evidence in court cases, where a person who is unable to talk because of severe cognitive disabilities types messages through a facilitator who usually guides or holds the arm of the disabled person. The communications have been shown to be more likely those of the facilitator than the disabled person.

An article in the Detroit Free Press, "Walled Lake Schools to pay parents in dismissed rape case" by John Wisely, 9/16/14, says that the parents, Julian and Thal Wendrow, settled a lawsuit against the school district for $1.1 million, just three weeks before the suit was scheduled to go to trial:

"West Bloomfield police arrested the Wendrows in December 2007 after a school aide helped their autistic daughter, who can't speak, type a statement accusing her father of repeated rapes and her mother of ignoring the attacks. The statement was written using facilitated communication, where the aide guides the child's fingers over a keyboard.

"The method has never been approved for courtroom use and critics insist the aide was the true author of the writings, either consciously or subconciously."

The article further states that, 

"The Wendrows claim their lives have been permanently damaged by the criminal case. Julian Wendrow spent 80 days in the Oakland County Jail before prosecutors dropped the charges for a lack of evidence.

"Thal Wendrow spent five days in jail before being released with an electronic monitoring device attached to her leg.

"When they were arrested, their daughter, then 14, was taken into protective custody. The couple's son, then 13, was interrogated by a detective who tried to get him to confirm the rape accusations by saying police had videotape of his father raping his sister."

The family has collected $3.75 million so far in settlements with the school district, the West Bloomfield Police, and the Michigan Department of Human services. A trial against the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office is set to begin on October 8, 2014.

Here are more troubling facts about this case:

  • There was no physical evidence that a rape had taken place.
  • The prosecution and the judge in the case accepted the girl's statements through FC as valid even though she functioned at the level of a two-year-old and did not talk. Even the prosecution's witness called to defend FC as a valid form of communication, did not believe the girl's charges and had warned the prosecution that her statements should be validated independently.
  • The girl's brother was interviewed by the police without notifying his guardian and without a parent or attorney present.
  • The primary objection to FC is that the communication is usually that of the facilitator and not the person who is being facilitated. The court still treated the girl's statements as evidence of a crime, reliable enough to have the father thrown in jail for 80 days.The case was dismissed after the girl was unable to answer even simple questions when her facilitator could not hear the questions being asked.
  • When the case was dismissed, the prosecution did not admit that they were wrong. Instead they said that the girl refused to testify because she was afraid.
Read more about Facilitated Communication and the case against the parents.

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