Stan McDonald readily acknowledges that his mildly intellectually disabled son, Andy, was dangerously out of control one evening nearly 25 years ago when, living with his father and stepmother, he made threats in two instances to two female children who were their neighbors in Sherborn, MA.
Andy’s behavior has improved greatly since then, McDonald says. Yet, due to a series of misinterpretations about the incidents that occurred in 1990, Andy is still considered to this day by both his court-appointed guardian and the probate court to be a danger to his community. As a result, he has been prohibited from ever returning to his hometown, and Stan has been deemed unfit to be his guardian for advocating for supervised home visits for him.
In many respects, Andy’s case is similar to that of Sara Duzan, a young woman who, as we’ve reported, has been living in a group home with no contact permitted with her family. Both cases appear to illustrate the dangers to family members of giving up guardianship of an incapacitated person for whatever reasons, and they show how court-appointed guardians fail to act in the ward’s best interest in many of these situations. In 1986, Stan and his former wife agreed to the appointment of a guardian for Andy as part of the settlement of a longstanding custody battle over him.
The history of Andy’s care is one in which court-appointed guardians and clinicians have consistently overridden the wishes of his family members, leading, in many cases to disastrous results.
In Andy’s case, contact with Stan and Andy’s stepmother, Ellen, has not been cut off, although their contact is restricted. Stan and Ellen are allowed to visit him in his group home in Westborough two to three times per month, and Stan, now 78, is allowed to call Andy, now 46, once or twice a week on the phone.
Stan and Ellen are also permitted to take Andy on outings in the community near his group home. But the position of the probate court and of Andy’s current guardian, Dennis Yeaw, a Shrewsbury-based attorney, is that Andy is sexually dangerous even though he was never charged with a sexual offense. Yeaw has had some 100 wards in addition to Andy.
Not only is the prospect of Andy’s ever returning home not even to be discussed, but a probate court judge ruled in 2006 that Stan McDonald must personally tell his son, in the presence of clinicians, that his son would never be allowed to go home again. McDonald said he has refused to say something like that to Andy, contending it would severely depress him and would be a violation of their rights of freedom of speech and association.
Andy has not exhibited any significant behavioral problems in close to a decade and has been taken on community outings to many places other than his home without any behavioral incidents, according to Stan and to notations in his clinical care plan. Yet, he has in the past told clinicians that he has had sexual fantasies about children; and that, combined with a mistaken probate court finding that he was arrested for sexual offenses in 1990, appear to have led the court to ban him for life from visits home.
In 1995 and 1996, Andy was allowed three supervised visits to Stan and Ellen in their Sherborn home, and those visits took place without incident, according to Stan. After that time, however, the visits were prohibited for no clear reason, Stan says.
Misrepresentation of his arrests
In a 2006 ruling in which he denied Stan’s bid for guardianship of Andy, Middlesex County Probate Court Judge Edward Rockett stated that Andy had been arrested in 1990 for sexual assaults of three young girls who lived across the street in Sherborn. That was not true, however. Two arrest reports from that year tell a much different story.
Andy was arrested in May 1990 for threatening an unidentified person during a telephone call, according to the district court record. The nature of the threats was not disclosed. In July of that year, he was charged with disturbing the peace in downtown Sherborn after he followed a young woman and allegedly threatened to kill her father, according to a Sherborn Police Department report. That same day, he was charged with assault after he punched Ellen, his stepmother, the same report stated. Stan says Ellen had driven Andy to the police station for his own protection after the incident in downtown Sherborn. On the way, he says, Andy was flailing his arms in protest and struck Ellen unintentionally.
There is no indication in the police reports that Andy ever sexually assaulted anyone. Immediately after the July 1990 incidents, Stan McDonald had Andy committed to McLean Hospital in Belmont.
Andy’s care under court-appointed guardianship was marked by inappropriate placements and decisions
Over the years, Andy has been subjected to inappropriate residential placements and treatment, in many cases because a series of court-appointed guardians, state agencies, and providers made the wrong decisions regarding his care, Stan says. Stan makes an exception for Stefan Grotz, the first in the series of Andy’s guardians, who was appointed as part of the agreement between Stan and his first wife in their divorce. Grotz authorized Stan to be his personal representative in Andy’s care, but Grotz stepped down as Andy’s guardian in 1991 because he felt he lived too far away from Andy’s then placement at Westborough State Hospital.
After he was admitted to McLean Hospital in 1990, Andy was first sent to Taunton State Hospital when McDonald’s insurance ran out, and subsequently to Westborough State, a Department of Mental Health facility. Stan had originally applied in 1989 for a placement for Andy in a Department of Developmental Services facility, but his eligibility was originally denied. Stan appealed, and DDS approved Andy’s application as a client in 1990; but by that time, Andy was in Westborough State, where he remained as a DDS client until 1993.
The Westborough State placement was inappropriate. Andy had earlier been found not to be mentally ill by DMH, which had determined that he would actually be harmed if housed in a facility for persons with severe mental illness. That turned out to be the case. He “deteriorated” in Westborough State Hospital for three years, Stan says. Stan was prohibited from visiting him for months at a time. In January 1993, Andy was sexually assaulted at the hospital by another patient. When the hospital refused an independent investigation, Stan says he filed a complaint with the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, which found the hospital negligent.
According to Stan, when Andy was admitted to Westborough State, he was non-psychotic and medication free. But after months of confinement in a locked ward with severely mentally ill and violent patients, Andy acted out in frustration, kicking over a trash can at one point. The staff’s response was to begin medicating him, which only increased his frustration and depression, resulting in increasing medications, in a vicious cycle.
Stan says DDS finally placed Andy in his current group home in 1993. Today, he says, Andy’s care in the Community Resources for Justice group home is very good, and Stan’s and Ellen’s relationship with the current staff in the residence is excellent. However, the care in Andy’s early years there was frequently substandard.
In a sworn affidavit in 1999, Cameron Fraser, a staff worker in the group home in 1994 and 1995, stated that a manager of the residence told him in December 1994 that “‘he (Andy) brings in a lot of money to this program,'” and that it was “necessary to document in the daily log regular behavioral instances” in order to ensure that Andy would remain in the program. Fraser said he observed a number of instances in which the manager deliberately incited Andy into fits of rage, which required the staff to place him in restraints.
Fraser also stated that the cupboards in the group home were frequently bare of food while he was there and the residents were often fed “the barest of meals, lacking basic nutritional values…” In addition, Fraser said that while other residents of the facility were allowed out on un-escorted walks, Andy was confined to the premises because he was considered a threat to the community. However, Fraser said he always found Andy to be “respectful and courteous to all around him.” Fraser further noted that Andy’s spirits were always buoyed by visits from Stan and Ellen.
Stan says that for many years, Andy’s dental care was inadequate as well, and that court-appointed guardians did little or nothing to improve that. In 1994, after his admission to the Community Resources for Justice group home, seven of Andy’s teeth were found to be badly decayed, but nothing was done about that for five years.
Around 1995, Stan says, he persuaded Andy’s then guardian to have Andy sent to Andy’s family dentist, who was shocked at the condition of his teeth and wrote to the then director of the group home, suggesting a stringent regime of dental hygiene for Andy. Stan says the group home director not only ignored the dentist’s advice, but ordered that Andy not return to the dentist. In 1999, Andy had to have two teeth extracted, and in 2007, he had to have three additional tooth extractions and multiple fillings under general anesthesia.
In addition, Andy was over-medicated for many years with Stelazine, an anti-psychotic drug, which caused him to develop Tardive Dyskinesia, a disorder resulting in involuntary, repetitive body movements. Court-appointed guardians, he says, did little or nothing to address that problem either. Stan personally got a court order and paid for an independent evaluation of Andy’s medications. This resulted in discontinuing the Stelazine and replacement of the prescribing doctor.
Today, the major problem with Andy’s group home is that it has become crowded with the addition of a fifth resident, and some of the residents have mental illness and escape impulses, making it necessary to keep the residence locked and the door alarmed, Stan says. As a result of the intense supervision needed for those residents, Andy gets few opportunities for fresh air and exercise. Also, the other residents of the group home are either 20 years older than Andy or are less functional intellectually and behaviorally, he says.
Supporters urge restoration of Stan McDonald’s guardianship of Andy
In May of last year, State Representative David Linsky, wrote a letter in support of Stan’s appointment as Andy’s guardian, noting that he has known Stan for 14 years and “can personally attest that he is deeply committed to his son Andy’s care and only wants the best for him.”
John Carroll, a former residential counselor to Andy at the Cardinal Cushing School, wrote to the Department of Developmental Services in June to say that he has frequently observed visits to Andy by Stan and Ellen, and that “I have seen theirs to be a bond that is unique and irreplaceable. Stanley’s and Ellen’s dedication to Andy’s care and treatment in all circumstances leaves no question in my mind that Stanley McDonald is the sole individual with the knowledge, experience, and love, deserving to have responsibility for major decisions in Andy’s life as guardian.”
And Stefan Grotz, the original court-appointed guardian in the case, wrote in 2002, after he had stepped down from that role, that “never have I met a more passionate advocate for a son than Stanley McDonald.” He strongly recommended to the court that McDonald be appointed as his son’s guardian. Stan McDonald maintains that if he was appointed as Andy’s guardian, he would keep Andy in his present program and would agree to having Andy’s supervised during visits home.
On January 6, I sent an email to Scott Harshbarger, Board president of Community Resources for Justice, the nonprofit organization that operates Andy’s group home, and asked whether he would consider supporting supervised home visits for Andy and the restoration of Stan McDonald’s guardianship of his son. I have not received a response from Harshbarger, who is a former Massachusetts attorney general and former president of the citizens watchdog group Common Cause.
Questions raised about Andy’s dangerousness
In his 2006 ruling, Judge Rockett cited testimony from the clinical director of Andy’s group home that Andy had told him he had had sexual fantasies about children and was therefore sexually dangerous. Rockett concluded that returning home to Sherborn had “acquired a magical meaning for him (Andy)” and that he must never be allowed to return there. But Rockett also acknowledged in his ruling that there was testimony as well that Andy “will always say what he thinks other people want to hear. This causes his statements to be very inconsistent. He will say one thing to his father and the opposite to a staff person.”
McDonald contends the misstatement in Rockett’s ruling that Andy had assaulted three young girls was based on misinformation provided to the judge by the Department of Developmental Services. Andrew’s court-appointed guardian, Dennis Yeaw, however, has consistently cited Rockett’s ruling in denying home visits to Andy. In an email to COFAR, Yeaw defended his position and maintained that “Mr. McDonald is the only person, well maybe Mr. McDonald’s wife as well, who thinks it’s OK for Andy to go to Sherborn.”
But not all clinicians have supported the ban on Andy’s returning to his hometown. In 2000, Ronald Ebert, a psychologist, recommended that the staff of Andy’s group home try a “trial visit” to the Sherborn Inn to hear Stan, an acclaimed jazz musician, play in his band if it could be demonstrated that the persons Andy was accused in 1990 of threatening no longer lived in town. In fact, Stan says, those persons had moved away as of that time. “If such visits can be managed successfully, there is no reason why they could not be built into his visit schedule…,” Ebert wrote. But Ebert’s recommendation was never heeded, and visits to the Inn have not been allowed.
There is no doubt that the conditions under which Andy lives have greatly improved in recent years. But it seems to us that those in charge of Andy’s care still haven’t fully recognized the progress that Andy himself has made over the years.
There is no question that the charge that Andy is sexually dangerous is an explosive one. But the record regarding this charge contains misinformation and contradictions. The insidious nature of a charge of sexual dangerousness, if it is untrue, is that it has been used and could be used at any time in the future to restrict Andy’s freedom to a much more extreme degree than is even now the case.
Stan notes that a clinical team report or assessment was done of Andy’s level of disability in 2012 for the probate court, but neither Stan nor Ellen were interviewed for that assessment. The probate court’s instructions for completing clinical team reports, however, state that clinicians should interview the individual “and persons who know him/her well” (emphasis in the original) in conducting those assessments. Neither Stan nor Ellen were provided with a copy of the report or informed of its conclusions.
We think a new and independent clinical evaluation should be done that takes into account Andy’s current record of behavior and includes input from his family and others with knowledge of Andy. We would also hope that such a report would be provided to Stan and Ellen for their review and comment.
After all, it is only family members in this case — namely Stan and Ellen — who have shown they have the knowledge and unconditional love and support needed to provide the best possible care for Andy.