BOSTON - Seven people have been fired over electrical shocks given to two emotionally disturbed teenagers at the direction of what turned out to be a prank caller.
A state agency concluded that six staffers at a Stoughton residence run by the Canton-based Judge Rotenberg Education Center had ample reason to doubt the orders to administer the shocks. The staffers and a video surveillance worker on duty the night of the incident have been fired, school spokesman Ernest Corrigan said.
On Aug. 26, a caller posed as a supervisor and said he was ordering the punishments for the two teens, ages 16 and 19, because they had misbehaved earlier in the evening. But none of the staffers had witnessed any problems, and other boys said the two teens had done nothing wrong. One boy suggested the call was a hoax.
The teens were awakened in the middle of the night and given the shock treatments, at times while their legs and arms were bound. One teen received 77 shocks and the other received 29. One boy was treated for two first-degree burns.
A report released to state lawmakers Wednesday by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care said the caller was a former resident of the center with intimate knowledge of the staff, residents and layout of the Stoughton home. No motive was given and the caller's identity wasn't disclosed. Police are looking into filing criminal charges.
Five of the six staffers had worked double or triple shifts and most had been on the job fewer than three months. The staffers were described as concerned and reluctant about the orders, but failed to verify them with the central office or check treatment plans to make sure the teens could receive that level of shock therapy, the report said.
Staff members realized their mistake after someone finally called the central office.
One reason staffers might not have been suspicious of the phone call is that the Rotenberg Center uses surveillance cameras in its group homes to monitor residents and staff, and a central-office employee is allowed to initiate discipline by phone.
As a result of the investigation, the center has expanded staff training, implemented new telephone-verification procedures, added oversight at group homes and eliminated delayed punishment.
Corrigan said an incident like the faulty shock treatments after a phone call has never happened before.
"It was a perfect storm of things that went wrong that night," he said.
The center is believed to be the only school in the nation that uses two-second skin-shock punishments to change destructive behavior. The center says the treatments are used in a minority of cases, and only with parental, medical, psychiatric and court approval.
The center has survived two attempts by the state to close it over allegations that its unorthodox methods amount to abuse. *