Friday, November 7, 2014

Family awarded $3M in wrongful prosecution case involving facilitated communication

The Detroit Free Press reports that the family of an autistic girl won a $3M award in a Federal  lawsuit for wrongful prosecution against the Oakland County, Michigan, prosecutors office. The article, "Jury awards $3M to Wendrows in wrongful prosecution case" by Lori Brasier and John Wisely, summarizes the case that has drawn national attention because it involved the use of a widely discredited communication technique called "facilitated communication" as evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the parents of a severely disabled autistic girl.

Julian and Thal Wendrow of West Bloomfield, Michigan, were arrested in late 2007 after their 14-year-old daughter supposedly typed on a keyboard that her father raped her while her mother looked the other way. The daughter communicated through a facilitator, an aide at her school, who guided her hand over the keyboard, but she was otherwise unable to speak. The girl was later found in court to be unable to answer questions when the facilitator was our of earshot. This is consistent with court findings in other cases involving FC: "The typing, a controversial method known as 'facilitated communication,' had been widely debunked in the last two decades. Research always found it was the aide guiding the disabled person's hand, either consciously or unconsciously."

This did not stop the prosecutors, however: "Nevertheless, then Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca, his chief assistant, Deborah Carley, and assistant prosecutor Andrea Dean pressed on with the prosecution, even as news reports showed the method was unreliable."

In my opinion, the most egregious wrongdoing in the case involved the autistic girl's brother, who is also autistic but is much higher functioning than his sister: "Ian, who received the largest part of the jury award, was interrogated for two hours by West Bloomfield police who told him they had videotape of his father assaulting his sister. Police never had such a tape and the claim was a lie that a psychologist would later testify left the boy traumatized. Jurors did watch a video showing Ian's interrogation, in which the boy, then 13, doubled over in tears."

There was no physical evidence to support the rape charges. And, "the typed statements said the girl was coming forward because she feared going to hell for lying. But lawyers pointed out the Wendrows are Jewish and don't believe in the Christian concept of hell."

Defendants in the lawsuit were all from the Oakland County prosecutor's office: 

Former Prosecutor David Gorcyca who left office in 2008 was found to have "…defamed the family when he insisted months after he left office, and a year after the case was dropped, that the Wendrows were in fact guilty of abusing their daughter." He now works as a defense attorney.

Gorcyca's assistant Deborah Carley was found by the jury to have violated the constitutional rights of the autistic girl's brother. "Carley now heads the Children and Youth Services Division for the Michigan Attorney General's office," according to the article.

Assistant prosecutor Andrea Dean was also a defendant in the case.

Deborah Gordon, a Bloomfield Hills attorney, represented the family throughout the suit.

More coverage of the trial by the Detroit Free Press:

"Wendrow lawsuit against ex-prosecutors to begin", 10/7/14  

"Lawsuit against ex-Oakland prosecutors gets under way", 10/8/14

"Attorney: Prosecutors ignored truth in charging couple", 10/9/14 

"Ex-prosecutor: Autistic girl was communicating in rape case", 10/14/14

"Former Oakland prosecutor defends actions in Wendrow case", 10/31/14

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