ABOUT TOWN: Teen Incites Weekend Riot at Judge Rotenberg Home in Stoughton
Welcome to "About Town with Mark Snyder," a column that will keep you up to the minute with what's what, who's who and what's going on around town. If you see or hear something we could use here, let us know by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
WEEKEND RIOT AT JUDGE ROTENBERG HOME IN TOWN: Another day, another incident at a Judge Rotenberg facility.
On Saturday, Stoughton Police say that a teenager incited a riot at the JRC house at 1115 Park Street in Stoughton, located right next to the town-owned Cedar Hill Golf Course.
Stoughton Police Executive Officer Robert Devine tells About Town that the incident occurred at 11:30 a.m. on August 4.
17-year-old Jakob Moran of Brooklyn, New York was arrested. He was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, and inciting a riot.
An additional juvenile will also be summonsed to court for assault and battery charges, according to XO Devine.
According to local sources, two staff members were injured, but neither sought medical assistance.
A pattern of troubling incidents?
The Judge Rotenberg Center, founded by Dr. Matthew Israel, is a Canton-based school for special-needs children with developmental, emotional or behavior disorders. It is headquartered at 240 Turnpike Street in Canton. It has been in the spotlight over the past decade for the controversial shock-therapy treatments practiced at the facility. The Center owns group homes in local communities, including the one on Park Street in Stoughton.
This particular house has seen similar occurrences to the August 4 incident, as have some of their other properties around town. On Saturday, November 7, 2011, an incident was reported to the Stoughton Police Department at 8:25 p.m. at this same Judge Rotenberg Center “group home” on Park Street.
Following this November 2011 incident, XO Devine explained that when police arrived three residents of the house - a 20 year old and two 16 year olds - had barricaded themselves in a room.
Devine said, “They had assaulted staff and were throwing things at them. The staff called police. Officer McNamara was charged with trying to talk them out of the room. They were uncooperative and threatened to attack police if they came in after them. When Canton Canine Officer Scott Brown and his dog Bosco arrived on scene, the three heard the dog and surrendered.”
The 20-year-old young adult, Eyheen Fountain, and the two juveniles (who were not named by police) were charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (dishes and frying pans), vandalizing property and assault and battery. The three were all placed under arrest. Fountain was arraigned that same morning and released back to the Park Street home. The juveniles were due later in the week at juvenile court.
In that November 7 incident, there were staff members with injuries like cuts, bruises and busted lips, according to Devine.
Devine said that the quick call to police on November 7 night was “a marked departure from the JRC’s past policies and procedures.”
Devine estimated there are at least seven JRC homes in Stoughton.
He added, “By the time we’re notified, they are already set up and running. It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from them - maybe nine months to a year. Previous to that, we had a stretch two years ago when we got called every week, with a large volume of calls. We voiced our displeasure and met with their management. We made our recommendations, and they instituted many of them. We had a lull until the November 7, 2011 call.”
This particular JRC group home is located almost diagonally across the street from Selectman Cynthia Walsh’s home. Following the November 2011 incident, Walsh told About Town “I wasn’t aware of any problems at the Rotenberg house. No one called me or came to my door. But, I’ve never had a problem there. You’d never know they were there. I’ve never witnessed or heard anything unusual. I see the white van when it goes back and forth.”
Following the November 2011 incident, JRC Attorney Mike Flammia responded to a call for more information about security precautions in the homes, as well as how the safety of staff and neighbors are protected.
He told me, “All the houses are fully equipped with security. They are fully secure. None of the students got out Saturday night.” He said if a student does get out, they let neighbors know. He also said that, “The students receive excellent treatment there. They have behavioral problems and the staff is trained on how to handle students. They go through weeks and months of training on how to respond. They have equipment to prepare them for situations. They are trained in how to react to crisis situations. They are trained on how to restrain the student or to call 911--which is what they did here.”
When I asked how many JRC homes were in Stoughton, Flammia said he didn’t know. When I asked why neighbors are no longer notified of these homes, he said, “You can’t discriminate against group homes. You can’t prevent them. It’s illegal. These children are entitled to their education and to live wherever JRC purchases homes. There’s no need for neighbors to be concerned in terms of safety or anything else.”
I have written extensively about this company in the past. Dr. Israel (who has since resigned from the JRC in a plea deal with the Massachusetts Attorney General's office following May 2011 charges of misleading a grand jury over the school's destruction of surveillance tapes) once dodged me for weeks to evade conversing about what went on behind closed doors in their facilities, a half dozen years ago.
At the time, they gave me a “tour” of the Canton school, which was carefully scripted. When a “student” tried to talk to me, they yanked him away. I know that I have spoken to parents of students in this program, and they have praised it. Many told me it was their “last straw” for their children, and their family. They just couldn’t do anything more for them. One told me that the JRC was “a blessing” for their family.
But, Stoughton seems to have more of these homes than any other town. It may be good for the students, but I don’t see how it can be good for the neighborhood, no matter how you spin it.