Charges against Saunders were personally brought by Sheila Paquette, Burns’ sister and co-guardian, after Paquette became frustrated with the slow pace of the state’s investigation into the case. Paquette has also been frustrated that she has gotten little information about the case so far from state and law enforcement authorities, which have not released an investigative report done by DDS on the matter.
However, in an email late last week to Paquette, Gail Quinn, the deputy general counsel of the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, did provide Paquette with the investigator’s recommendations. In addition to the recommendation against allowing Saunders to work with DDS clients, the investigator’s report cites the group home for failing to “identify” Burns’ injuries before sending him to his day program the morning after the alleged assault, and recommends retraining of staff in that regard.
Quinn also said the DPPC is changing its policy as a result of this case of withholding investigative reports from guardians of victims of alleged abuse pending the outcome of criminal investigations. She stated that the agency will notify district attorneys’ offices of its intention to send out investigative reports to guardians within a specified time frame unless the district attorney objects. Quinn wrote that the DPPC has issued such a notification to the district attorney in Burns’ case.
Quinn added in her email that, “The delay in getting (investigative) Reports out has been very concerning to us. Your case has brought the issue to the fore, and we have been able to deal with it in a manner that we think represents everyone’s interests in the content of the Report.”
Paquette, who is president of the Advocacy Network and a COFAR member, termed the DPPC’s new policy “encouraging,” but said she still isn’t convinced the system is fully on the victim’s side in these types of cases. Nevertheless, she said she is appreciative of Quinn’s comments.
Instances of assault and abuse of persons with intellectual disabilities often don’t get prosecuted by law enforcement authorities, and other state agencies tend to function slowly and inefficiently in these cases. Paquette said she was told by an investigator that had she not personally pressed charges in this case, it could have taken as long as two years for the matter to reach criminal court.
I talked about that today with Emil DeRiggi, deputy executive director of the DPPC, who said the agency supports decisions of individual family members or guardians to personally press charges in abuse cases. “We generally support anyone who learns something happened and believes filing charges is the right thing to do,” DeRiggi said. “I would encourage people to do whatever they think is best in these instances.”
DeRiggi said that in the case of Paquette’s brother, the State Police Unit assigned to the DPPC referred the matter to the district attorney’s office on Cape Cod, where the alleged assault took place. While that implies the case would have gone to criminal court without Paquette’s intervention, it does appear that her decision to press charges on her own may have, at the very least, speeded up the wheels of justice in this instance.
One other note: We have recieved the police report in the case from the Falmouth Police Department, where Paquette initally filed the assault charges. The report states that the alleged assault was witnessed by Burns’ roommate, who “reported seeing Mr. Saunders hand covering the mouth of Mr. Burns…and then witnessed Mr. Saunders strike Mr. Burns in the face with an open hand.” Saunders has denied the charge, according to the police report.