Township Agrees to Pay Parents $1.8 Million for False Allegations of Abuse

Here’s another case in which parents are charged with sexual abuse of their daughter on the flimsiest possible “evidence.”  (Free Press, 1/12/11).   Here again school officials took their own fevered notions of parental abuse and got the police involved.  And here again, the police used coercion, deception and outright lies in an attempt to railroad a father and mother into prison. 

And here again, the type of persecution that would make the “witches” of Salem, Massachusetts nod knowingly, was at last derailed and its victims exonerated.  Here the city’s insurance company has agreed to pay the parents of the children $1.8 million rather than risk airing their facts before a jury.

Julian Wendrow and his wife Thal have two children.  Back in 2007, they lived in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan.  The older child is a girl with severe autism which renders her incapable of anything beyond the abilities of a 2-year-old.  She was 14 at the time of the allegations.  Her brother, 13 at the time, has Asperger’s Syndrome.

The girl attended school only with the assistance of “facilitated communication” which means a school aide helped her type on a keyboard.  Now, my understanding of facilitated communication of this sort is that it’s extremely susceptible to the facilitator’s intervention on behalf of the child.  That is, it’s very easy for these people to substitute their own answers for those of the child.

And clearly, that’s what happened.  Just like others who question children inappropriately, the aide concluded that the girl was telling her that her father had been raping her with her mother’s knowing acquiescence since she was seven years old.  As is so often the case, those lurid scenes were in the mind of the aide, not the girl.

Armed with this and nothing more, the police swung into action.  They jailed the father for 80 days and charged him with rape of a child, an offense for which he could have spent the rest of his life in prison.  The mother faced 14 years for her nonexistent part in a nonexistent crime.

Then the police turned their attention on the 13 year old boy who has Asperger’s Syndrome.  They put him in a room with an interrogator and began lying to him about various evidence they claimed to have on his father.  And eventually they turned their accusations on the child himself. 

This article contains a series of videotaped excerpts from that interrogation (Free Press, 1/11/11).  For a while, the boy doggedly maintains that his father has done nothing wrong, but with each new police lie and false accusations against him, he gradually breaks down.

The Wendrows’ attorney, Deborah Gordon, said today the Wendrows want the taped interrogation available to Free Press readers.

“They want people to see what exactly went on here,’ Gordon said.

Good for them and good for the Free Press.  Everyone should see what the police got up to in this case.

Beyond a profoundly autistic girl’s “facilitated” communication and the unfounded statements of a confused and terrified boy, there was no evidence that the parents had harmed the children in any way. 

So the criminal court then apparently decided to test the accuracy of “facilitated communication.”  The girl was brought to court along with the aide who had started the whole thing.  The girl was asked to provide simple, basic information, but the aide wasn’t permitted to hear the questions, only assist with typing the answer.

The case dissolved in front of a judge when the girl couldn’t communicate answers to even simple questions, such as the color of her sweater. The aide helped the girl type in court, but hadn’t heard the judge’s questions. The girl’s responses were mostly gibberish. Other courts have long refused to accept testimony provided through facilitated communication.

“They pushed this thing in spite of literally having no evidence of any kind of abuse, other than this facilitated communication nonsense, which is in effect, a Ouija board,” said Bloomfield Hills attorney Deborah Gordon, who represents the Wendrows. “What the police department did was unbelievably horrific.”

The case fell apart in four months back in 2008.  During that time, the children were taken from their parents and placed in foster care. 

Since then the Wendrows have been suing the township and the police department.  Wisely, the insurance company has fled in the face of trial, laying down a thick carpet of money to cover its retreat.

And what do the police think of all this?

[Township attorney William] Hampton also said the department would investigate the case the same way again, including the interrogation of the boy and the jailing of the father.

“We’ll assess everything, but really, right off-hand, I can’t think of anything they would do differently because we really don’t think they did anything wrong,” he said.

That’s despite the fact that police investigator

Detective Joseph Brusseau, who remains on the police force, later admitted in depositions that he had lied about police finding videos.

The nonexistent videos were the “evidence” he used to threaten the boy during his interrogation of him. 

So, the police and the attorney find nothing wrong with (a) pursuing a case for which there’s no evidence, (b) lying to a minor to try to get him to implicate his father, mother and himself and (c) relying solely on “facilitated communication” for whose use there is literally no professional support anywhere in the country and of course (d) tearing apart a terrified family based on “evidence” a first-year law student could see through.

Oakland County prosecutors said in depositions that they did not investigate the facilitated communication method before charging the Wendrows, and could not find anyone to testify that the method is reliable, despite nationwide calls after the arrests.

Thanks to Brett for the heads-up.

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