Sheila Paquette’s long-running quest to bring the man who allegedly assaulted her intellectually disabled brother to justice took yet another turn this week.
After months of delay, Monday, January 9, marked the date for the trial of John Saunders, a former care worker in the group home in which Paquette’s brother, John Burns, lives.
The bad news is Saunders was a no-show at Falmouth District Court, to which Paquette and five witnesses in the case had traveled from their homes in western Massachusetts. But Paquette was not deterred or defeated. The good news is that the judge in the case ruled that Saunders had defaulted on his bail and should not be released prior to trial if he is picked up on a violation of any kind.
Saunders allegedly hit John Burns in the face while toileting him, causing two black eyes and other injuries. The alleged incident occurred in June 2010, during an outing on Cape Cod on which Burns and other residents of his West Springfield-based group home had been taken. Burns was subsequently fired by the group home, which is operated by the Center for Human Development, Inc.
The assault charges were filed in July 2010 by Burns’ sister and co-guardian, Sheila Paquette, after she became frustrated with the slow pace of state and law enforcement authorities in investigating the alleged assault. Saunders, who is represented by a public defender, has previously denied the charges.
“We were prepared for trial,” Paquette said this week. The witnesses included a housemate of Burns who had witnessed the alleged assault.
Paquette said Monday’s court date marked the fourth time she has traveled from her home in western Massachusetts to attend pre-trial hearings scheduled on the case in Falmouth District Court. “I asked the court how long can I afford to keep coming?” she said. “Everyone else gets paid to show up. They get mileage and accommodations. The victim pays.”
But Paquette said the judge’s ruling was “a really positive thing for us. If he (Saunders) gets picked up, he’ll be in jail and there is no way he can avoid showing up for trial again.” The question is when, if ever, Saunders will be picked up. Police are unlikely to go looking for someone wanted for allegedly assaulting a disabled man.
Nevertheless, Paquette believes she is proving by sticking with the case that the system can be made to work for crime victims, even when those victims are intellectually disabled. “The state and the public should know that we will take these cases to court,” she said. She said she has started a legal fund to raise money not only to pursue her brother’s case, but to help others pursue similar prosecutions of assaults against people with disabilities. “It’s a difficult process, and I think a lot of people are intimidated by it,” she said.
The Disabled Persons Protection Commission concluded there was reasonable cause to believe Saunders had used excessive force and had physically assaulted Burns. The Commission recommended that Saunders no longer be permitted to work with Department of Developmental Services clients, and cited Burns’ group home for failing to identify his injuries before sending him to his day program the morning after the alleged assault.
Paquette said her main concern now is that her brother may have become depressed in recent months and that his condition may be connected to the assault. “It’s one more assault he couldn’t manage,” she said, noting that her brother had been assaulted on two occasions in group homes prior to the alleged assault by Saunders.