Press Release: Judge Rotenberg Center Threatens NeuroClastic with Defamation Suit

For decades, the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts, has been using graduated electronic decelerators (GEDs) to shape the behaviors of children and adults. The GED delivers a powerful and extremely painful electroshock and is worn by students 24 hours per day, every day— even during sleep and showers.

The GED looks like a backpack or fanny pack with wires coming out of it that have electrodes on them. The electrodes are strapped to a disabled person’s body, and that is the point of contact where the shocks will singe their skin, at times causing burns.

This weekend, NeuroClastic CEO Terra Vance received a certified letter from Michael P. Flammina, Esq., from Eckert Seamans, Attorneys at Law, acting as legal representation of Judge Rotenberg Center (hereinafter, “JRC”). The letter alleges that an article published on NeuroClastic, “900 ABA Professionals Have Weighed in on the Use of Electroshock at Judge Rotenberg Center,” contains defamatory statements that harm the Judge Rotenberg Center.

That cease and desist letter can be viewed in full [address redacted] here.

The letter is dated April 27, 2022– sent during Autistic Acceptance Month.

The JRC letter cites the following quotes from the aforementioned article are defamatory and causing harm to JRC:

·A quote from Brian Middleton, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA-TN that the skin shock in use at JRC is “at least 10 times more powerful than a stungun” and that JRC uses skin shock to treat “not answering a question in 3 seconds or saying no”;

·A quote from RBT that JRC uses shock on clients while they are “strapped down to a board on the floor”.

·”The majority of the individuals wearing a GED are Black or Brown”;

·JRC uses skin shock to treat “completely innocuous behaviors like hand play and pressurizing the ears”

·Proponents of the JRC argue that use of the GED is used with consent, but built in to JRC’s structure is the systematic stripping of consent to ensure the resident being admitted cannot say no” and “[a]ll of JRC’s residents are all capable of consent, even in the absence of having access to using words as communication”;

·The skin shock JRC uses is “much more painful” and “many times stronger” than a “cattle prod’; and

·A quote from Mason Weiser that JRC’s use of skin shock is “torture” and that JRC has “murdered us by electrocution there before”.

-Excerpt from cease-and-desist letter from JRC to NeuroClastic, dated April 27, 2022

At this time, NeuroClastic will not be dignifying much of this letter with a response as we– along with countless journalists and advocates, have already thoroughly documented the abuses which have taken place at JRC.

In fact, much of the evidence substantiating the aforementioned claims is linked in the article itself. Footage of the torture at JRC has aired on many major news networks. [Warning: footage is extremely disturbing. Viewer discretion advised].

To our knowledge, based on publicly-available and cited evidence, all statements made by NeuroClastic were believed to be true and accurate at the time of publication.

We stand in our integrity. It will be apparent to any reasonable person that NeuroClastic understood the importance of accuracy, documentation, and citation and published the article, “900 ABA Professionals Have Weighed in on the Use of Electroshock at Judge Rotenberg Center,” in good faith and exercising due diligence.

There are people in your field who have more power over autistic lives, welfare, and futures than any human should have over another. They have more power than the United Nations and the US Government to influence autistic access to rights and self-determination.

NeuroClastic, “900 ABA Professionals Have Weighed in on the Use of Electroshock at Judge Rotenberg Center,” 2021

Claims of Defamation

Shocking children

JRC’s legal representation claims “JRC is not treating children with skin shock. JRC’s clients who are children are all being successfully treated with JRC’s ABA positive reinforcement treatment program.”

While it may be currently factual, it is not historically factual. We can find no publicly-available information that indicates children are no longer being shocked.

If JRC historically shocked children but no longer needs to, then shocking of children was never necessary. It was never a last resort.

Racial Bias

JRC’s representation claim NeuroClastic’s statement, “[t]he majority of the individuals wearing a GED are Black or Brown,” is false: “JRC does not discriminate in any fashion, including with respect to treatment. The majority of the clients receiving skin shock are Caucasian. There is no statistical or any other basis for NeuroClastic’s claim of racial bias in JRC’s treatment program.”

According to our research, this contradicts all of the publicly-available information on JRC. Of note, NeuroClastic used the words “Black and Brown,” but the cease-and-desist letter from JRC used the word, “Caucasian.”

“Caucasian” is an obsolete classification that can reference people from more than one hundred different ethnic backgrounds and is sociologically and scientifically inaccurate.

Racial classifications are ill-defined and have changed over time. They are essentially biologically meaningless, except as markers of systemic oppression and the effects of racism on the body. Racial classifications provide value in understanding the historical stratified allocation of resources and power and the experience of being coded in society as one race or another based on external characteristics. And they are based on the logic that there is a meaningful difference between peoples with different external characteristics and that sharply defined classifications can provide some valuable insight, which they cannot. Continuing to use outdated or imprecise terminology in our research, education, or clinical practice has real and tangible negative effects by perpetuating racism.

-Dr. Andrea Westby, Time to Phase Out “Caucasian,” University of Minnesota, 2020.

Our use of the word “Brown” likely includes many of the people being referenced as “Caucasian,” a moniker Alice Popejoy, who heads a multidisciplinary diversity team with the US National Institutes of Health, opines. She notes that scientific use of this term indicates that the users are “either unbothered by or unaware of its roots in racist taxonomies used to justify slavery — or worse, adding to pseudoscientific claims of white biological superiority” (2021, Too Many Scientists Still Say Caucasian, Nature Magazine).

NeuroClastic did not state or imply that JRC selects individuals for the GED based on the color of their skin. However, JRC is complicit in perpetuating systemic injustices and brutality that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people (including Brown people who fall under the defunct and inaccurate classification of Caucasian, like Latinx).

U.S. News lists JRC’s racial diversity as 82.6% minority enrollment.

Image features a screenshot with a circle graph of JRC’s ethnic breakdown. It lists 17.4% white, 52.9% Black or African American, 27.3% Hispanic/Latino, and 2.5% Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander.

High-schools.com also has a breakdown of ethnic diversity among students at JRC.

Image features a screenshot with a circle graph of JRC’s ethnic breakdown. It lists 56% Black, 26% Hispanic, 17% white, 3% two or more, 3% Asian, 0% Pacific Islander, and 0% American Indian.

If, in the discovery process, it is recognized that historically— as most credible sources report— the GED was used on a majority of Black and Brown students, then the reasonable inference could be made that JRC disproportionately discontinued the use of the GED on Black and Brown disabled individuals, potentially in response to negative media attention as a way to manage public perception.

And if Black and Brown students were disproportionately exited from the use of GED, then the inference could be made that the GED was not necessary and was being disproportionately used on Black and Brown residents.

If the demographic constitution of students at JRC is only 17% white, why do white clients make up the majority of individuals on the GED?

JRC cites the following from NeuroClastic as defamatory and false:

Proponents of the JRC argue that use of the GED is used with consent, but built in to JRC’s structure is the systematic stripping of consent to ensure the resident being admitted cannot say no” and “[a]ll of JRC’s residents are all capable of consent, even in the absence of having access to using words as communication”;

-Cease and desist letter from JRC to NeuroClastic

The letter substantiates this as defamation with the following justification:

Under Massachusetts law, applicable to all extraordinary treatment including antipsychotic
medication, an individual with a diagnosed mental illness that renders them unable to make
informed medical decisions, provides or withholds consent through the Probate Court using the substituted judgment standard. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190B, $ 5-306A. JRC does not strip its clients of consent and that statement is false.

-Cease and desist letter from JRC to NeuroClastic

NeuroClastic cited JRC’s official policy. Nathan Blenkush, JRC Director of Clinical Services, explains how the process of revoking the right to consent works, here:

Once the use of aversive interventions is added to the student’s* IEP*, the individual court process in Massachusetts can then be started. Typically, JRC initiates the process by filing a guardianship petition and proposed treatment plan with a Massachusetts Probate Court, and a request for a hearing.

*Note: the 2021 use of the words “student’s” and “IEP” would imply, to most reasonable people, that children are being subjected to shock as an IEP (Individual Education Plan) does not extend beyond high school graduation.

NeuroClastic did not allege that the practice is illegal. We are alleging that it is inhumane and undermines the rights of disabled individuals to access consent or revoke consent.

We advocate that it should be made illegal.

We expanded on our position,

If you have to shock someone for trying to remove a device that is strapped to their body and designed to give a skin shock much more painful than a cattle prod, you have not obtained their consent to shock them.

How anyone is coming to the conclusion that these children and adults would choose to be strapped to a backpack they wear twenty-four hours per day, even during sleep and showers, and shocked with a current many times stronger than a cattle prod is a mystery.

If you shock someone for attempting to run away, you have not obtained their consent.

If you shock someone for attempting to remove a shock device, you have not obtained their consent. All of JRC’s residents are all capable of consent, even in the absence of having access to using words as communication. Their attempts to resist the GED are evidence that they do not consent.

-NeuroClastic, “900 ABA Professionals Have Weighed in on the Use of Electroshock at Judge Rotenberg Center,” 2021.

The Autistic people at NeuroClastic will not, under any amount of pressure or subjected to any form of “aversives,” retract the aforementioned.

Resistance to abuse is communicating that consent is not given. Nonspeakers and people without reliable communication have the capacity to protest and should have their access to autonomy and self-determination respected.

Strength of the GED

JRC claims that our description of the GED, or even quoting what others have said about the GED, is inaccurate, again justifying the accusation by citing that courts have ruled the GED safe.

In case it was unclear, we are advocating against those court rulings.

Torture is not safe. Corporal punishment is abuse. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture declared the GED to be torture.

The GED is not safe for the disabled people experiencing it.

It is not safe for the disabled people witnessing it.

It is not safe for the professionals using or witnessing it.

It is not safe for the broader community to live with the awareness that state-sanctioned torture could be inflicted on our disabled loved ones.

This bone-chilling report details the technical and sadistic approach taken to maximize the pain caused by electroshock aversives:

In choosing parameters for the GED’s electrical stimulation, our goal was to maximize deceleration effectiveness while minimizing any possible adverse effects on the skin. Wherever the shock literature did not contain information concerning decelerative effectiveness, parameters were chosen to maximize perceived aversiveness, as determined by tests on volunteer members of the BRI/JRC staff.

-Israel, von Heyn, & Connolly. (n.d.) A Remote-Controlled Electric Shock Device for Behavior Modification, The JRC pub. no. 92-3.

In fact, Lydia Brown addressed this in their 2014 article in Washington Post, “It’s illegal to torture prisoners and animals, but not disabled people.”

Alex Kronstein, in a 2019 article in The Nova Scotia Advocate entitled, “About electroshocks at a US institution for people with learning disabilities, and a bit ofAbout electroshocks at a US institution for people with learning disabilities, and a bit of a Nova Scotia angle a Nova Scotia angle,” notes:

There are two shock aversive devices used at the JRC. The main GED delivers a 15.5-milliamp shock of up to two seconds, and the GED-4 gives shocks of 45.5 milliamps. By comparison, most police tasers deliver shocks of 2.1 or 3.6 milliamps.

The GED is Harmless and Has Never Caused Harm [sic]

The cease and desist letter from the JRC makes the unforgivable claim that,

No JRC client has been harmed as a result of JRC’s behavioral treatment program or, in particular, its use of skin shock.

-Cease and desist letter from JRC

Further,

JRC does not “torture” its clients in any way and the claim in the Publication that JRC has “murdered us by electrocution there before” is false.

-Cease and desist letter from JRC

And,

For a small percentage of its most difficult-to-treat clients, the ABA intensive positive reinforcement treatment plan is supplemented with a harmless contingent skin-shock as a consequence for refractory dangerous behaviors as a treatment of last resort, and only when no other treatment works and when approved by a Massachusetts Probate and Family Court (the “Probate Court’) on an individual basis.

-Cease and desist letter from JRC

Sir. Go to jail.

The Threat

NeuroClastic’s statements are false and defamatory and are causing harm to JRC. JRC hereby demands that NeuroClastic cease and desist from any further publication of these false and defamatory statements about JRC’s treatment program and immediately remove all false statements from public view. JRC reserves the right to pursue all of its legal rights and remedies against NeuroClastic and seek damages.We await confirmation of prompt compliance with the demands in this letter.

I recommend that you consult with a lawyer before contacting me.

-JRC cease and desist letter

NeuroClastic will remove nothing.

Our statements were true according to the best of our knowledge, were heavily referenced, and/or were direct quotes from survey responses. Most of our claims can be substantiated via the Wikipedia articles on Judge Rotenberg Center and the Graduated Electronic Decelerator and on the official JRC website.

NeuroClastic is a volunteer-led, autistic-led, newly-formed nonprofit without a single paid staff person.

There is nothing we have claimed has not been widely published on CNN, Washington Post, New York Magazine, The Guardian, The Center for Public Integrity, The New York Times, Fox News, The Boston Globe, and numerous other publications.

We have evidence, the truth, integrity, a belief in the inexorable rights and dignity of our Neurokin, and community.

And we’re banking on ourselves and our community because we believe that people are more than their behaviors, because autistic and otherwise disabled people should not be silenced by force, because there is no place for torture in “treatment,” and because we do not perform compliance to benefit ourselves while leaving our people with less privilege to suffer.

So do your worst. Our corporate headquarters is a laptop. That’s our total material assets.

Garnish our wages of zero dollars.

Waste our tiny budget on court fees.

Do your worst. You destroyed your credibility as a reliable witness when you made the following claim:

No JRC client has been harmed as a result of JRC’s behavioral treatment program or, in particular, its use of skin shock.

-cease and desist letter from JRC to NeuroClastic

There is nothing more aversive to us than the knowledge that no one out there is willing or able to save us from the myriad cruel abuses the JRC has inflicted on members of our community.

If you want us to stop accusing you of torture, stop torturing disabled people.

But you will do your worst in broad daylight.

We are not bowing to paltry claims of defamation because the truth is more brutal and dark than any fiction we could fabricate.

The autistic 13-year-old son of one of our board members was killed in a prone restraint by his teachers. Max Benson. Danny Aswad, 14-year-old autistic child, was killed in a prone restraint at JRC.

Linda Cornelison was a 19-year-old nonspeaking autistic.

In 1990, five years after Vincent Milletich’s death, 19-year-old Linda Cornelison had a perforated stomach ulcer which was ignored by BRI staff for two days despite her expressions of pain. As Linda’s pain worsened, her expressions of pain began to be treated as behaviors to be punished. Between 3:52 and 8:00 pm, she was subjected to 56 physical aversives, before an ambulance was finally called. She died “seven years, two months and 88,719 aversives after she arrived in October 1984” (Cobb, as cited by Davies, 2014).

Quentin Davies, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, “Prisoners of the Apparatus”: The Judge Rotenberg Center, 2014.

These are our family members. Our community. Our Neurokin. They deserved better. They deserved communication rights. They deserved safety.

#JRCSueMeToo

Greg Santucci, occupational therapist, started the hashtag #JRCSueMeToo. If you stand with against JRC’s use of torture, you can use this hashtag on social media when you post about the abuse at JRC.

Further, Greg Santucci started a GoFundMe to help us prepare to defend ourselves. We appreciate the love, solidarity, and support we are receiving from community and are so grateful to everyone who stands with the disabled people being subjected to this torture.

Action Items

1. Visit https://judgerotenberg.center and use the available tools to urge Massachusetts lawmakers to pass H.225 and ban the use of aversives.

2. Share or create social media posts using the hashtags #StopTheShock and #JRCSueMeToo. The court of public opinion creates accountability. Accountability is a predecessor of justice.

Post to TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, and LinkedIn to voice your strong opposition of the GED. Tag reporters, influencers, orgs, politicians, and celebrities. Ask them to participate. Ask ten friends to do the same.

Use your art, your business, your voice, your skills, and your words.

3. Visit Lydia Brown’s website for a “Living Archive & Repository on the Judge Rotenberg Center’s Abuses” to familiarize yourself with the long, arduous, devastating journey disabled activists have engaged for decades and witness the robust documentation of the horrors JRC has inflicted on clients.

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12 Responses

  1. Suing EVERY outlet that states they torture, would be literally “crazy”. From the first page of results for “Judge Rotenberg Center”: “The center has been condemned for torture by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.”

    That is from Wikipedia. Im pretty sure it’s not libel to state what the UN has stated to be true based on all evidence. Why not sue Wikipedia too?

  2. Well, as an autistic lawyer (in a different jurisdiction) my instinctive reaction is to focus on the claim that the JRC is suffering damage as a result of the publication. Can they make this good?

    At the moment it is just bald assertion. They have not condescended to particulars. But in my jurisdiction at least, if there is no damage, there is no cause of action. So challenge them to identify the damage. The claim is advanced on behalf of an organisation, not a natural person. Organisations have no feelings that can be hurt. The only harm they can suffer is pecuniary harm. Have they suffered any? So I would respond to the letter by asking for Further & Better Particulars of their claim.

    How much business have they lost since the publication of the article?

    How do they make good the assertion that the loss of business they are able to show arises out of the publication of this article, rather than some other cause?

    Do they have any witnesses who will say that, prior to reading the article they were going to send business to the JRD (and how much?) but that after reading it they decided not to? If so, let us see the witness statements? If not … what is the evidential basis for this bald assertion.

    Again, I am hampered by not knowing the pre-action procedures in your jurisdiction. In my jurisdiction, litigation is a game which is played with all cards face up on the table, and lawyers are required to respond to their adversaries’ requests for information about the evidentiary basis of their case. How else can a lawyer advise his client that the court is likely to find for the other party, if they have only seen their own client’s evidence and not the other party’s evidence? This letter reads like the letter of a lawyer who does not want to share their evidence. If your jurisdiction is like mine, then you need to call their bluff. Ask them to lay their cards on the table. Request the evidence they rely on to make good the claim that the JRC has suffered damage. (Again, in my jurisdiction it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to advance such a claim in a pre-action letter if they do not have the evidence to make it good.)

    Best of luck … and please keep on advocating for autistic people everywhere … especially those who do not enjoy the privilege of elpquence and articulacy.

    1. Libel is very hard to prove, and in a case where the UN itself has already investigated and called out Rotenberg as a place of TORTURE….they’re not likely to win when they have powerful adversaries already.

      Do not let these psychopathic child-torturing fascists intimidate you, Neuroclastic. There are no worse people on earth than these types, and they are constantly flailing and grabbing for power like the empty power-wh*!res they are.

      What *I* want to know is who is LETTING them still operate? What can we do to shut them down?

  3. If nothing else, that cease and desist letter demonstrates the probability that JRC, or at least their lawyers if not both them and their lawyers, consciously engage in bullying behavior.

  4. “As Linda’s pain worsened, her expressions of pain began to be treated as behaviors to be punished.”

    Boy, does this EVER describe the behavioral tendency that fascists and other powerful people use to oppress marginalized and powerless people!!! Criticize and attack those with needs, requests for help (neurotypical-coded/direct or not coded/authentically autistic), any VOICING of a true reality. Until the end of my days I will never be able to comprehend the very WEAK and pathetic “people” who think like this. Unfortunately, an extremely common pathological phenomena too.

  5. To any lawsuit there will apply the court change: the multi-country abolition of finality of decisions, described here, courtchange.wordpress.com/the-court-change-or-the-non-finality-situation/ It was created by corrupt use of that power to decide factual impossibilities and call them final. No party has offered any refutation of the reasons why it exists. Though it has been ignored by the media + political elites for years, that the reasons why it exists are unrefuted means it exists.
    The faulting power under the court change will apply to every aspect of this case, Including faultability of the fairness of costs for it and of what impact they have on access to justice in practice.

    1. No. By definition, libel has to be telling a falsehood with the intention of harming another person or organization.

      1. Exactly, bARTER. Libel is hrd to prove legally. Anyone who takes a Media 101 class learns that lol.

  6. JRC needs to shut down, and everyone who thinks they’re doing right via electroshock needs to be imprisoned. So tired of harmful organizations holding so much power over our narrative that their perceived entitlement of perpetuating that narrative causes them to threaten autistic people. A$ did it to a lot of autistic bloggers ~10 years ago, and now a lot of them are scared to return to the scene.

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