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31 Shocks Later

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Staffers in a monitoring room where they oversee residents and workers 24 hours a day.   

The bizarre behaviors returned. When his mother brought him home to celebrate his 18th birthday in mid-October, she noticed he was talking to himself more than usual. When she took him to Costco, he began spinning around with his arms extended in a circle in front of him, fingers touching. She hustled him home and called two friends: “Please come over here; I’m scared; I don’t know what this is.” She cut the visit short and took Andre back to the Rotenberg Center early.

“I know you don’t believe in medication here,” she recalls telling his case manager, “but Andre needs his medication.”

Eight days later—on his 605th day at the Rotenberg Center—Andre McCollins woke up, as usual, with electrodes strapped to his limbs. At 8 a.m., according to a form filled out by a staffer, “Andre sat at the Dining Room table and quietly talked to himself, made grimacing faces and did subtle karate moves.” The ride from his residence to the school building was about 25 miles, and on the way there he received one shock for allegedly hitting a worker.

Afterward, the employees put him in waist and leg restraints, and placed a ­helmet on his head; his treatment plan mandated that he spend 30 minutes in restraints after he received a shock. Surveillance footage shows two staff members escorting him into Classroom 15 at 9:33 a.m.

Like many residents at the Rotenberg Center, Andre did not do well with change, and in the last few days, he’d endured many: He’d just moved to a new residence, just switched case managers, and this was his first day in a new classroom. Like the other students in the room, Andre sat at a desk, facing a computer, his back to the teacher.

A worker told him, “Take off your jacket.”

Andre didn’t move.

“Take off your jacket, please.”

Again, no response.

An employee pressed the button to activate his shock device.

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!

Andre fell to the ground and tried to crawl under his desk. Four adults grabbed him and wrestled him to the floor, holding him down while he struggled. His psychologist brought in a restraint board, and the employees moved him onto it, face down, eight of them surrounding him as they bound his wrists and ankles to the board.

Usually after Andre got a shock and was restrained, he’d calm down, but on this day he only got more agitated. The more upset he became, the more he tensed up his body—and the more he tensed up, the more shocks he received. Between 10 a.m. and about 11 a.m., the workers shocked him fourteen times. Each press of the button triggered a loud, high-pitched alarm—informing employees the shock had been delivered—while Andre’s cries echoed down the corridor.

“No, don’t do that!”

“I’m sorry. Sorry. Sorry.”

“I won’t do it again.”

“No, please.”

“Stop! Stop! For real!”

“Help me! Help! Help!”

Employees came and went throughout the morning and into the afternoon. They attached two more electrodes, so Andre had five total: on both arms, both legs, and his torso. Following the usual protocol, they tested the batteries on his shock device; rotated his electrodes so they wouldn’t leave marks on his skin; offered him water. They studied his “behavior recording sheet” to figure out exactly what behaviors they were supposed to punish. And they documented each shock with the reason it was given: “Scream” or “Tense Up.”

Hour after hour went by and nobody knelt down next to Andre to try to calm him. Attention was considered a reward—and a student who’s exhibiting “targeted behaviors” is not supposed to receive any. When the staffers did speak to Andre, they were required to follow a script, like a case manager did at 1:25 p.m., when she pushed the button for shock eighteen, then said: “Andre, no full-body tense-ups.” If any of the workers thought these shocks were excessive, they kept it to themselves. They all knew that if they didn’t shock a student when they were supposed to, the phone in the classroom would ring and there would be a monitor on the line ordering them to press the button.

By midafternoon, the workers had administered so many shocks they were having trouble keeping track of them all. At 3:12 p.m., one worker said to another: “Martin, what is he at now?”

“I think 26.”

Finally, at 3:48 p.m., Dr. Israel walked in. He stood at a distance, arms folded across his chest, and assessed the scene. He concluded, as he later testified in court, “The program that was designed really needed to be changed.” He ordered his employees to stop shocking Andre. On Andre’s daily recording sheet, a staffer wrote, “All behaviors are on ignore until further notice.”


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