The state’s story keeps changing as to why the father and sister of a developmentally disabled woman have been banned for more than two years from having any contact with her.
The woman, whose name we are withholding, has been kept in virtual isolation by the Department of Developmental Services since her mother’s alleged boyfriend was charged in 2014 with sexually assaulting her. The woman’s mother has also been charged in connection with the alleged assault.
However, since November 2015, both David and Ashley Barr, the woman’s father and sister, have been prohibited from having any contact with her and have not even been told where she is living. Neither Ashley nor David has been charged with any crime. David has been divorced from the woman’s mother since 2003.
As of this past week, Ashley Barr was being told she and her father would not be able to visit the woman until her mother and her mother’s alleged boyfriend are tried in connection with the alleged sexual assault. The trial, which has apparently been delayed at least once, is now scheduled for May 15, according to the office of Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.
Ashley said the reason given her for waiting for the trial was unclear. She said DDS General Counsel Marianne Meacham told her last week that there was concern on someone’s part that a visit from her father and her would somehow make her sister “lose focus” in preparing for the trial.
Ashley said Meacham had initially told her the trial would be held in April.
In an email this week, Carrie Kimball-Monahan, director of communications for the Essex District Attorney’s Office, said the district attorney was not responsible for the ban on family contact. Kimball-Monahan said the ban was ordered by Dorothy Wallace, the woman’s DDS-paid guardian.
Kimball-Monahan added that the district attorney was not in a position to try to resolve the visitation issue with DDS. “We are prosecuting a criminal matter and that is our focus,” she stated.
In previous comments in probate court, Wallace stated that she was imposing restrictions on contact between the woman and her father and sister because David and Ashley became overly emotional when they had been allowed to visit her. Wallace made no mention during the probate court hearing, which was held in August 2015, to the ongoing criminal prosecution involving the woman’s mother and alleged boyfriend.
Ashley said she is not convinced anyone in the system cares whether she and her father ever see her sister again.
Wallace received $20,100 from DDS for guardianship services for an undisclosed number of persons in Fiscal Year 2016, according to DDS records. Yet, Wallace appears to have had relatively little contact with the disabled woman in this case over the past year, according to records and other information reviewed by COFAR.
A violation of DDS regulations
The continued isolation of the woman in this case appears to involve a violation of DDS regulations, which state that people in the Department’s care have the right …“to be visited and to visit others under circumstances that are conducive to friendships and relationships…” The only limitation on this right is if the individual “is ill or incapacitated to the degree that a visit would cause serious physical or emotional harm.”
Also, the right to visitation is a key aspect of family integrity in international human rights law. As an article in the Berkeley Journal of International Law states, “Sufficient consensus exists against particular types of family separation…to constitute customary international law.”
In an email sent February 10 to Meacham, Lutkevich asked whether DDS would provide a letter stating that Ashley “will in fact be able to see her sister after the trial…I truly hope there is a full intention of allowing these visits to occur,” Lutkevich added, noting that the probate court has not issued any orders barring visitation with the woman.
Meacham had not responded to Lutkevich’s message as of today (February 13.)
The Barrs have been unable to afford the cost of hiring a lawyer to pursue their case in probate court. As we have reported in another case, it is extremely difficult to prevail in any probate court proceeding in Massachusetts if you are not a legal guardian or appear without a lawyer.
David and Ashley have asked their local state legislators to intervene with DDS to allow visits, but have gotten little or no help from them. Despite requests from the Barrs and from COFAR, mainstream media outlets have not reported on the ban on family contact in the case.
As we reported in January 2017, the Boston-based Disability Law Center temporarily intervened in the case that month to ask a state-appointed attorney, who is representing the woman, to support family visits if the woman wished that. However, the attorney didn’t agree to do so.
The attorney, Melissa Coury Cote, told COFAR in March 2017 that she would not support court permission for visits to the woman by David or Ashley Barr, despite the DLC’s request. She provided no reason to us for opposing family visits other than to say that the woman had not specifically asked her to allow visits from her father and sister.
Ashley said, however, that her sister has, on occasion, surreptitiously tried to call her and her father from her undisclosed location.