Safe Choices 19 – St. Francis wants to take over his own life

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle June 23, 2010

NEWPORT — George St. Francis wants to get out from under the control of his guardian and take over his own life.

Meanwhile, he faces a court process that could severely limit the freedoms he currently enjoys.  He could be returned to the control of a state guardian and be subjected to 24-hour arm’s length supervision, something like a prison without walls.

Which way his life will go is up to Judge Walter Morris, who had been conducting a series of Family Court hearings into his case.

A motion seeking Mr. St. Francis’ emancipation as a competent adult has been filed by his attorney, Susan Davis.

If he were to grant the motion, Judge Morris would essentially end any state or court supervision of Mr. St. Francis.

And it would leave unresolved a question that clearly worries the judge, and other state and mental health practitioners who have dealt with him:  Is he a potential sex offender, and as such a threat to public safety?

As he sat on the bench Thursday, June 17, at the latest of a long series of hearings on Mr. St. Francis, Judge Morris faced two radically different views of the man.

His lawyer and his advocates, his wife and his friends, see him as a victim of a system that exaggerated both his disability and his potential to harm others.  As a result, they said, Mr. St. Francis spent 14 years in a system that confined him, humiliated him, over-medicated him with psychiatric drugs, and kept him far away from “normal” people and relationships.

On Thursday his lawyer, Susan Davis, went a step further and maintained that her client is not mentally retarded.  It was that diagnosis, accepted by a Superior Court judge in 1996, that cost Mr. St. Francis his freedom and put him in the hands of a program that tried to help him while, at the same time, protect the public from him.

On the other hand, Judge Morris must consider a file on Mr. St. Francis that runs to 1,100 pages, and apparently contains allegations and evaluations which raise the alarming possibility that, left to his own devices, he could become a sex offender.  Although the Chronicle has been granted limited access to the Family Court proceedings, which are normally held behind closed doors, the newspaper is not privy to the documents which support this view of Mr. St. Francis.

A year ago his problems seemed close to resolution.  Judge Morris’ predecessor in the case, Judge Robert Bent, had agreed that Mr. St. Francis should be released from the control of his state guardian.  She was replaced by Janet Reed of Albany, an advocate for Mr. St. Francis and a determined foe of the program, Safe Choices, that controlled his life for years.

Run by Northeast Kingdom Human Services, the local community mental health agency, Safe Choices was created to deal with sex offenders who are so mentally handicapped that, as a constitutional matter, they cannot be tried for their crimes.

Mr. St. Francis does not fit that description.  He is one of several men who were sent to Safe Choices because a guardian or family member was worried about their sexual behavior.

And far from being too mentally disabled to stand trial, Mr. St. Francis has on at least three occasions been the subject of minor criminal charges brought by his keepers in Safe Choices.

On the day she took over as Mr. St. Francis’ guardian, in late July last year, Ms. Reed permitted him to marry Kathy McCammon, a woman who, state officials have repeatedly asserted, abused him in 2003 by sleeping with him while serving as his caregiver.  That allegation has been investigated, but never proven, and both Ms. McCammon and Mr. St. Francis deny it.

Under a carefully negotiated court order, Mr. St. Francis was to be treated by Sterling Area Services, a mental health agency based in Morrisville, and to live under the close supervision of a couple in Northfield.

When Mr. St. Francis failed to keep an appointment with a Sterling therapist and moved in with his new wife, the agency terminated its treatment.

Judge Morris ruled in May that Ms. Reed violated the court order when she permitted her ward to marry and change his residence.  Among the possible consequences for her, the judge wrote, could be a finding of contempt of court.

Among the consequences for Mr. St. Francis, he said, could be a return to state guardianship.

But in court last week a spokesman for the state resisted that possibility.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Myka was there to represent the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL), which oversees the state guardian system.

“It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the department to take over Mr. St. Francis,” she told Judge Morris.

Given all that’s happened between the personalities involved, she said, “I just cannot see how we can interject ourselves in this… in a way that would be productive.”

Nor did Sterling Services show any appetite to resume treatment of Mr. St. Francis.  “Sterling doesn’t believe it can get involved at this time,” said its attorney, Robert Halpert.

The private guardianship has failed, Judge Morris said in obvious frustration.  “The question is, what are we going to do?”

If he ordered another risk assessment of Mr. St. Francis, the judge asked, “can the department be of any assistance?””

“Certainly, the department could arrange for another assessment,” Ms. Myka replied.

Mr. St. Francis’ attorney, Ms. Davis, tried to shape the nature of any further evaluation of Mr. St. Francis.

“It’s not the evaluation per se we’re concerned about,” she told the judge.  “The prior evaluation was based on tons and tons of records.  Many were exaggerated or false.”

A new evaluation should be done without reference to those records, she argued.

But without them, Judge Morris replied, “How could it be a competent evaluation?”

In the end, Judge Morris ordered a new assessment that would include a “psycho-sexual” evaluation.  He asked Ms. Myka to arrange for a specialist for the job, after consulting with Ms. Davis and Trudy Miller, the attorney for Ms. Reed.

Ms. Davis could obtain independent evaluations, he noted, and present those to the court.  She and Ms. Miller could also challenge the findings of the court-ordered evaluation, he added.

He set the next hearing on the matter for early August.

In the lengthy motion she filed to terminate the guardianship altogether, Ms. Davis wrote that “two separate and independent psychologists have determined George St. Francis to NOT be mentally retarded.”

Until September 2009, Ms. Davis said, the people in charge of Mr. St. Francis medicated him with Prozac, lithium carbonate, Topamax and Seroquel.  “He was taking ALL of these, concurrently, and has been for years,” she wrote.

“Side effects of these medications include drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue/insomnia, and headaches.  Side effects of the lithium include blackouts, seizures, slurred speech and confusion.  Side effects of Topamax include mental and physical slowing and delays, coordination problems, confusion, difficulty with concentration and attention.”

“Today,” Ms. Davis wrote, “clear of thought and medication, with a home, a wife, a life on the farm and the security that that brings, he no longer wants a guardianship of any kind.”

Though he has attended the hearings on his fate, Mr. St. Francis has never had an opportunity to testify.  On Thursday, waiting in the corridor for proceedings to start, Mr. St. Francis chatted with his guardian’s husband, Alan Reed, who seems to be a particular friend.

Mr. St. Francis, a large man with a quick smile and a keen sense of humor, sought detailed advice from Mr. Reed on how to deal with a tractor that had broken down on his wife’s farm.


Safe Choices 20 – Judge insists on psychosexual evaluation

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle July 21, 2010

NEWPORT — At a hearing Monday in Orleans Family Court, Judge Walter Morris declined a formal request that he change his mind, and insisted that George St. Francis undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.
In his efforts to win his freedom from court and state control, Mr. St. Francis faces official concerns that he is a potential sex offender.  Judge Morris ordered the psycho-sexual evaluation in June as part of a more general evaluation of Mr. St. Francis, who was judged to be retarded by a Superior Court judge in 1996, when he was 18.
His lawyer, Susan Davis, argues that Mr. St. Francis is neither dangerous nor retarded.  In the “motion for extraordinary relief” she filed with the court on July 13, Ms. Davis argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to subject her client to a procedure which she called “intimate, probing, distressing and invasive.”
However, referring to an evaluation of Mr. St. Francis that was conducted in October 2009, Judge Morris said “there is an evaluation that frankly says there is a high degree of risk.”
He added, however, that he believes the specialists who treat and measure sexual aberrations have dropped a particularly controversial piece of apparatus called the “penile plethysmograph.”  In case they haven’t, he added, he would order that the plethysmograph not be used on Mr. St. Francis.
The device was used to measure a man’s response to particular types of sexual stimuli.
In her motion, Ms. Davis said that “a psycho-sexual evaluation may include up to six hours of interrogation, forced viewing of sexually suggestive or violent materials, and in some cases linking the individual’s private parts to electronic probes to determine his or her response to sexual stimuli.”
One former client of the Safe Choices program, which imposed its treatment on Mr. St. Francis for years, told the Chronicle that he had been subjected to a plethysmograph test.
Judge Morris also declined to grant Ms. Davis’ request that he put a hold on the Family Court proceedings while she appealed his decision to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Monday’s hearing was a small part of a case that has been before Family Court for well over a year.
Mr. St. Francis was under the control of a state-appointed public guardian, and a reluctant client of the Safe Choices program when it began.
The court put him under the control of a private guardian, Janet Reed, who is a determined critic of the Safe Choices program and its methods.
But Judge Morris has ruled that Ms. Reed violated the court’s order when she permitted Mr. St. Francis to get married and move out of a Northfield home in which he was to be closely supervised.
The court is struggling with the question of what to do with Mr. St. Francis next.
Meanwhile, Ms. Davis is prepared to present evidence that her client, while not of average intelligence, does not meet the low standard required to deny him the freedoms of an ordinary citizen.
Testimony from expert witnesses for Mr. St. Francis is expected at a hearing in early August.

Safe Choices 21 – St. Francis finally takes the stand

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle August 11, 2010

NEWPORT — Hour after hour, month after month, year after year, George St. Francis has sat in courtrooms and listened to important people talk about him.

Judges, lawyers, guardians, state officials and psychologists have discussed his intelligence, or lack of it, his sexual proclivities and, critically, his future.
Finally, on Monday, Mr. St. Francis got a chance to speak for himself.
A day-long hearing ended with Mr. St. Francis in the witness chair, chatting with Judge Walter Morris.  They talked about a tractor Mr. St. Francis helped repair on the Wolcott farm where he lives with his wife, Kathy, and his friend Dayton Lamphere.
They talked about how Mr. St. Francis handles his money, and who gets him to his sessions with his therapist in Newport.
Despite his pleasant, conversational tone, Judge Morris wasn’t just passing the time.  He was, finally, seizing the opportunity to make his own assessment of the man whose freedom he holds, however reluctantly, in his hands.  His questions seemed designed to gain a sense of what Mr. St. Francis can do, how closely he is supervised, how he might fare in the world if freed from the constraints he’s lived under since 1996.
Underlying those genial questions about Mr. St. Francis’ personal welfare lay the question that has followed him through his adult life:  If he is left on his own, will the public be safe from him?
Mr. St. Francis has his advocates, and they argue passionately that, ever since he was legally labeled retarded when he was 18, Mr. St. Francis has been misdiagnosed and mistreated by the state and its agents.
He has won some major battles, with their help.  First he got away from Safe Choices, a treatment and supervision program for dangerous sex offenders who are so severely mentally handicapped that they can’t be put on trial.
Mr. St. Francis didn’t belong in that program, and there is ample evidence on the record that it treated him wretchedly.
Then he got away from the control of the state-appointed guardian who sent him to Safe Choices and left him there, over his strenuous objections, for 13 years.
He escaped the close supervision of Sterling Area Services in Morrisville when his new, private guardian let him get married and move onto his bride’s farm.
Now, finally, the only authority left to restrict him is the Orleans Family Court in the person of Judge Morris, a soft-spoken, invariably polite former public defender who is just weeks away from retirement.
During a brief hearing on Friday, August 6, Sterling bowed out of the case.  Its attorney, Robert Halpert, seemed particularly cheerful as he strode out of the courtroom.
On Monday Vida Lyon of the state Office of the Public Guardian and her attorney, Special Assistant Attorney General Kim Velk, gave up their seats at a table inside the bar in the big courtroom and took folding chairs alongside a handful of other interested spectators.  “The state is not advocating now for any particular position,” Ms. Velk had told the judge on Friday.
That left no one in the courtroom to argue with the two lawyers who advocate for Mr. St. Francis — his lawyer, Susan Davis, and Gertrude Miller, who is representing his new guardian, Janet Reed.
Judge Morris, who generally sits as arbiter between opposing lawyers, noted the problem as Monday’s hearing opened.
“It will not be an adversarial proceeding,” he said.  There won’t be anybody to jump to his or her feet and oppose the introduction of any evidence the two remaining lawyers might offer, he noted.
And if they led their witnesses, who would object?
Judge Morris finally did so as the afternoon wore on, in the mildest possible terms.  Of the evidence she was drawing from a witness, the judge told Ms. Miller, “Its probative value is affected by the leading nature of your questions.”
If he didn’t cross-examine the witnesses, Judge Morris did take his turn, after the two attorneys, in asking them questions.
Ms. Miller’s first witness offered evidence that undermined the basis of the judgment that put Mr. St. Francis’ life in the hands of the state.
Dr. Eric Mart, a forensic psychologist from Manchester, New Hampshire, said — in more technical language — that Mr. St. Francis isn’t retarded.
In a test he administered earlier this year, Dr. Mart said, Mr. St. Francis demonstrated an IQ of 80, well above the score of 70 required for a diagnosis of mild mental retardation.
Mr. St. Francis, the doctor testified, scored from “moderately below average to below average.”
The “composite intelligence” figure of 80, he added, was derived from scores of 72 in verbal intelligence and 92 in nonverbal intelligence.
Asked to explain how his results differed from earlier, lower scores, Dr. Mart said a person’s IQ doesn’t normally vary over time.  If it does, he said, it could indicate other problems, like cultural deprivation or a learning disability.
Dr. Mart said he had also subjected Mr. St. Francis to a “Static 99” measure used to predict the likelihood that a sexual offender will commit another serious crime.  (Mr. St. Francis’ lawyers insist, however, that he has never been charged with or convicted of a serious crime.)
Again, his results were better than earlier evaluations of Mr. St. Francis had shown.
Previously rated 5 on a scale of 0 to 10, Mr. St. Francis scored a 4 on Dr. Mart’s test.  That would indicate a “moderately high risk,” he said in an interview later.
Because these ratings are matched against the actual behavior of convicted sex offenders, Dr. Mart told the court, the predicted likelihood of reoffending shifted down between 2003 and 2008.
Under the new standard, he testified, there was an 7 percent chance that Mr. St. Francis would offend over a five-year period; an 8 percent chance over ten years.  In an earlier application of the test, Mr. St. Francis’ results were much higher:  a 26 percent chance over five years and 35 percent over ten years.
In response to a question from the judge, Dr. Mart said Mr. St. Francis poses an “elevated” risk.
“I wouldn’t leave him alone with children,” the doctor said.
After making four round trips from Rutland to hearings that were too filled with legal argument to hear his testimony, psychologist David Egner finally took the stand Monday.
He testified that Mr. St. Francis’ intelligence is “clearly within normal limits.”
“He has been profoundly misdiagnosed,” Dr. Egner told the court.  That, he added, is “something I’ve seen a great deal.”
“George has experienced a great deal of trauma,” the psychologist said.  He went through the first grade three times, he testified, and was removed from his family home “for abuse multiple times by a parent.”
On the basis of his testing, Mr. Egner said, “it was obvious he has visual, motor and perceptual difficulties that have nothing to do with intelligence.”
“It is abundantly evident that he is not retarded,” Mr. Egner concluded.  “George has excellent intelligence.”
When she took the stand, mental health counselor Gretchen Lewis said she has seen many changes in Mr. St. Francis over the past year.
When he first came to her, shortly after leaving Safe Choices, she testified, “He was very withdrawn, spoke very little, made little eye contact.”
“My initial diagnosis was an adjustment disorder, having to come from being in that program for so many years and having to fit into society.”
After about 30 sessions with him, Ms. Lewis said, “It’s pretty amazing how George has changed himself around.”
Their conversations could easily last more than the standard therapeutic hour, she said.  “He has a lot to say, talks about how he’s feeling, it’s just very free-flowing and natural.”
Ms. Lewis said she meets alone with Mr. St. Francis, and has never felt physically threatened by him.
“What do you want?” Ms. Davis asked Mr. St. Francis when he finally took his turn on the stand.
“What I want is my life,” Mr. St. Francis replied.  “With my wife, to be happy all the time, nobody bugging me.”

Safe Choices 22 – Lawyer attacks foundation of St. Francis case

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle November 10, 2010

NEWPORT — George St. Francis’ legal champion, Gertrude Miller, is attacking a brief, almost off-handed legal proceeding that, 14 years ago, placed his adult life in the hands of the state of Vermont and the Safe Choices Program.

In February 1996 a Chittenden Superior Court judge ruled that Mr. St. Francis “is 18 years of age and a mentally retarded person in need of supervision and protection for his own welfare.”
That provided the foundation for everything the state did to and for Mr. St. Francis.  It gave his guardian the power to enroll him in Safe Choices, a program run by the local community mental health agency, Northeast Kingdom Human Services, to deal with dangerous sex offenders who are so retarded that they can’t be tried for their crimes.
Mr. St. Francis is one of several men who don’t fit that description, but who found themselves enrolled in Safe Choices against their will.  Several have said they were told that, if they tried to get out of the program, they would be sent to jail.  Safe Choices has denied that.
At a reported cost that rose, in Mr. St. Francis’ case, to $230,000 a year, Safe Choices kept him and a few other men in a remote, end-of-the-road farmhouse called Lowell House under 24-hour, arm’s length supervision.
Ms. Miller, a Newport attorney, has worked to help a handful of men like Mr. St. Francis free themselves from Safe Choices.
He accomplished that in the spring of 2009, and has lived most of the time since with his new bride and a mutual friend on their farm in Wolcott.
But because his new living situation violated the terms of the court order that won his release from state guardianship and got him a new, private guardian, Mr. St. Francis’ case is still before Orleans Family Court and Judge Walter Morris.
Ms. Miller is currently the attorney for Mr. St. Francis’ private guardian, Janet Reed of Albany.  Judge Morse has said Ms. Reed is in contempt of court for allowing Mr. St. Francis to marry, move in with his bride, and reject the services arranged with another community mental health agency, Sterling Area Services of Morrisville.
Mr. St. Francis is represented by attorney Susan Davis, who is easing herself out of her law practice to work as managing editor of the Newport Daily Express.
At a hearing in Family Court on Friday, November 5, Judge Morris said the next step in a seemingly endless case is to settle the matter of Mr. St. Francis’ continuing guardianship, and its terms.
But much of Friday’s hearing was devoted to taking evidence on Ms. Miller’s motion to “vacate the February 21, 1996, order of protective supervision and dismiss this case in its entirety.”
In a nutshell, Ms. Miller is arguing that the proceeding that cost Mr. St. Francis his freedom was invalid because there was never a hearing in Family Court, and because no guardian ad litem was appointed to safeguard his legal rights.
As an adult whose competency to understand legal proceedings is in question, Mr. St. Francis currently has Connie Daigle, a former Superior Court Clerk, as his guardian ad litem.
On Friday Kathleen Hill, the juvenile docket clerk in Chittenden Superior Court, testified by telephone.
She held the job in 1996, Ms. Hill testified, and had reviewed the records in Mr. St. Francis’ case.
There was a petition for guardianship filed by a private individual, she said, which said that he was found to be developmentally disabled when he was 15.
There was a notice of hearing, though the hearing was subsequently cancelled.  There was a stipulation, signed by Mr. St. Francis’ attorney, Laura Philipps of the Disability Law Project, and by Deputy State’s Attorney Margaret O’Rourke.
It said in part:  “Respondent has been diagnosed as having significantly subaverage intellectual functioning which has been manifested prior to the age of 19 and which exists concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior.”
Another important paragraph began:  “Respondent is in need of protection and supervision for his own welfare….”
The Chittenden court file also includes an order signed by Judge Amy Davenport.  It repeated much of the stipulation, and put Mr. St. Francis under the supervision of the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.
It closed, however, with an important qualification:
“Recognizing that the respondent’s ability for maximum self-reliance is still developing, it is further ORDERED that the respondent’s continued need for protective services be reviewed by the Court on the second anniversary of the issuance of that order.”
That part of the order was never carried out.  While other courts have since acknowledged that failure, they have come up with no sanction for the officials who failed to obey it, nor any remedy that would compensate Mr. St. Francis for the court’s failure to check on his progress.
Ms. Miller’s claim that the 1996 proceedings were fatally flawed will be argued at a later hearing.

Safe Choices 23 – Lawyers want St. Francis case dismissed

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle January 12, 2011
NEWPORT — George St. Francis was back in court Monday to hear two attorneys argue that the legal process that cost him his freedom 15 years ago was seriously flawed.

It was so flawed, attorney Gertrude Miller argued, that the court should drop the case that has been moving through Orleans Family Court since 2008.  That would restore Mr. St. Francis’ full rights as a citizen and free him to pursue his life without the supervision of any guardian, public or private.
Ms. Miller filed her motion last year, and evidence was taken at a hearing in November.  Monday’s three-hour court session was devoted to arguments on the motion.
Mr. St. Francis, now 33, had just turned 18 when he was found to be  “in need of protection and supervision for his own welfare,” by a judge in Chittenden County.  That led to the appointment of a public guardian, who enrolled him in the Safe Choices Program operated by Northeast Kingdom Human Services, the Newport-based community mental health service.
The program was designed to treat — and protect the public from — serious sex offenders who were so severely mentally disabled that they could not be tried or convicted in the criminal courts.
Mr. St. Francis does not clearly meet either of those criteria.  He has never been charged with a serious sexual offense, and the claim that he suffers a severe mental disability has been challenged by his current attorney, Susan Davis, and two expert witnesses.
After a legal battle with the state, Mr. St. Francis won the right to leave the Safe Choices program in the spring of 2009.
However should Judge Walter Morris deny Ms. Miller’s motion to dismiss, he said Monday, he may find it necessary to appoint a new guardian for Mr. St. Francis, and impose some level of treatment and supervision.
Ms. Miller is in the case, not as an attorney for Mr. St. Francis, but for his private guardian, Janet Reed of Albany.  Judge Morris has ruled that Ms. Reed is in contempt of court for allowing Mr. St. Francis to get married, move in with his new bride, and drop out of a court-approved treatment program.  Ms. Reed was not in court Monday.
Ms. Miller cited three problems with the 1996 proceedings in Chittenden County.
While state law required that a state’s attorney initiate an action to put an adult under state supervision, she said, the action in Mr. St. Francis’ case was started by a private citizen, his foster mother.
There was no guardian ad litem appointed to protect Mr. St. Francis’ rights, Ms. Miller said.  And the court’s ruling was based on a stipulation by lawyers on both sides, with no court hearing.
Ms. Davis, Mr. St. Francis’ lawyer, argued that her client never had a chance to challenge the proceedings in 1996.
“In this case, somebody stepped outside the box, and due process went down the drain,” she said.
Her client’s treatment, she added, “was the byproduct of the breakdown of an overloaded system.  It happens — and it happened in this case.”
Ms. Miller argued that in 1996 Mr. St. Francis did not have the legal protections he was entitled to.  “This was a group mistake, a group misunderstanding,” she said.
All the government and private agencies which once fought to keep Mr. St. Francis under their control have withdrawn from the case, and that has left Judge Morris in an uncomfortable position.
Ms. Miller and Ms. Davis work together on his behalf, as something of a legal tag team.  If there are arguments to be made against them, they can only come from the judge himself.
On Monday he noted that it is not unusual, in mental health cases, for the judge to rule on the basis of a stipulation without taking evidence at a hearing.
However, Ms. Davis countered, in such cases the person whose liberty is at stake is represented by a guardian ad litem, a non-attorney appointed to make the sort of decisions a competent person might be expected to make in his own interest.
Mr. St. Francis didn’t have a guardian ad litem in 1996.  He has one now, in the person of former County Clerk Connie Daigle, who has been present at all the hearings in his case.
Judge Morris also noted that there had been several proceedings in Probate and Family Court on Mr. St. Francis.  In none of them, he said, had his attorneys challenged the original 1996 process.
If a procedural failure isn’t challenged at the first opportunity, the judge indicated, the opportunity to challenge it later may be lost.
And in every court proceeding, the judge noted, Mr. St. Francis was represented by an attorney.
Until 2008, however, Mr. St. Francis’ attorneys were chosen by his state-appointed guardian, who presumably picked a lawyer who would pursue what they felt was best for him.  That was to remain under close, 24-hour, arm’s length supervision in a remote end-of-the-road house maintained in Lowell by Safe Choices.
When Mr. St. Francis finally found a lawyer who fought vigorously to get him out of Safe Choices and under the control of a private guardian, the state objected vigorously.
The lawyer was Tim Yarrow of Hyde Park.  In a motion she filed in 2008, Jennifer Myka, a special assistant attorney general, referred to Mr. Yarrow as Mr. St. Francis’ “apparent” attorney.
The commissioner of the state Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living, she argued, had the exclusive power to obtain legal advice on his behalf.
Mr. Yarrow left the case after his client’s public guardian was replaced by Ms. Reed, a private guardian with a clear commitment to getting Mr. St. Francis out of the Safe Choices program.
Judge Morris said Monday that he will rule, in writing, on Ms. Miller’s motion to dismiss the proceedings.  In case he should deny the motion, he asked the court clerk to schedule a two-day hearing on what, finally, the court might do about Ms. Reed’s contempt, and about the future of George St. Francis.

Safe Choices 24 – Cialis as therapy?

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle January 19, 2011
Smokey (his choice of a false name) was living quietly in the countryside under the supervision of a single woman when the program that controlled his life, Safe Choices, brought a friend over to visit in 2009.

The two men spent the night in a tent, and there was an opportunity for sexual activity.  That, it seems, was the point.

Smokey, at the time, was an angry and unwilling “consumer” of the Safe Choices program, which was established to treat — and protect the public from — serious sex offenders who are so profoundly mentally disabled that they can’t be tried for their crime.

Smokey got into some trouble as an adolescent, but has never been charged with a sexual offense as an adult.

The friend who was delivered to his home is 31 years older than Smokey and has been convicted of six counts of sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct with a child.

He lives under close supervision at Lowell House, one of Safe Choices’ residential facilities, as a condition of his probation.  He can be found on Vermont’s sex offender registry.  (The Chronicle promised Smokey we would not use his friend’s real name, so we’ll call him Joe.)

Establishing a sexual relationship between Smokey and Joe was, as far as it is possible to tell, part of their treatment program in Safe Choices.

It also seems that the program, in its effort to deal with men who, it insists, are sexually dangerous, is concerned for their sexual potency.

In 2006, when Smokey encountered difficulty getting an erection, Safe Choices sent him to a doctor where he was given Cialis, the drug that is heavily advertised on television as a cure for erectile dysfunction.

When Smokey discarded the drug because it made him feel dizzy and nauseous, Kathy Aiken, the coordinator of Safe Choices, wrote a letter to his doctor asking that he be prescribed some more.

Smokey outlined this story in an interview in May 2010, shortly after Safe Choices, surprisingly, let him walk away from the program.

He is an engaging man, friendly, extremely talkative, and remarkably well spoken for one whose mental capacity confined him to a decade in a program that angered, embarrassed and confused him.

But he seemed inclined to tell an interviewer what he wanted to hear, and his story was so bizarre that this newspaper set it aside.

Smokey has since obtained copies of his extensive record from Safe Choices, and on Monday he made part of that record available to the Chronicle.  The documents confirm his story.

Smokey said Monday that he is not a homosexual.  He’d like to be in a relationship with a woman, he said, “because I always talked about having a family someday.”

At several points in his records, Smokey talks about particular women he would like to date, and about his sadness when one, who he’d invited to his birthday party, failed to appear.

Did he feel that the Safe Choices staff was pushing him into a sexual relationship with Joe?

“Yeah,” he replied.  “Joe liked me as a best friend.  They found out Joe liked me as more than just a friend.

“Me and Joe did end up together.  It was in a tent, and we didn’t do anything.  We were camping out, just two normal friends.”

Whatever the truth of the matter, Smokey was clearly not believed at Safe Choices.  He continued:

“They said ‘We believe you had intercourse.’  I said no, he slept on the mattress and I slept on the ground.”

The records show that Smokey was particularly concerned that his relationship with Joe not become a topic at the weekly group therapy meetings.  Conducted by Saul Schoenberg, a licenced psychologist who heads Resolutions Program, Inc., the sessions form the core of Safe Choices’ treatment program.  According to other former participants in the program, they focus on the clients’ sexuality, on their sexual fantasies — acceptable and aberrant — and on what outlets they are able to find, like masturbation.

In July 2009, staff member John Ullrich wrote in his client notes, Smokey “was anxious and nervous that it was going to be brought to Group what happened between him and the client during a visit.  I assured Smokey that Saul stated that this will not be brought up in group and that he will take care of this matter individually in private sessions.”

That same month, Mr. Schoenberg reported on a session he held with Smokey and Joe.  The handwritten notes are hard to read, but leave an impression of something like a couple’s therapy session.  There is talk of consenting to and initiating sex, of sexual control and feelings of security.

In January 2010, psychiatrist Craig Van Tuinen wrote in his notes on a meeting with Smokey that Joe, “another client, stayed overnight at the house which brought up a lot of concerns however they apparently worked out an agreement and Smokey was very clear about no physical contact.”

Smokey was clearly not fond of the group therapy sessions.  An unsigned “psychiatric appointment information sheet” dated December 2, 2008, reports:

Smokey “has blown up at group and was yelling threats outside the office that were in the nature of reporting the program to lawyers.  Kathy has sent a e-mail to Smokey’s guardian pertaining that he needs to find a different program for Smokey.  Cause he is now scaring the other clients in the group as well with his threatening outburst towards Saul and the program.”

Asked on Monday if he has a temper, Smokey replied, “Yes, sometimes it gets pretty escalated, depending on the situation.  It’s mostly yelling.  At Safe Choices I have punched the refrigerators and the freezers and the walls, but nothing physical to any person or human being.”

Safe Choices didn’t find a different program for Smokey.  But the program seems to have simply let him walk away in the spring of 2010.  He lives alone in an apartment, is looking for a job, and said he has an appointment to get his driver’s license.

Although he said he finds it hard to sit still, Smokey said he has stopped taking any of the long list of psychiatric drugs that were prescribed for him at Safe Choices.

In a remarkable recital, he rattles through the long list of drugs, citing their daily doses and their purpose — chiefly anti-anxiety.

“I have been on these drugs for years and years,” he explains, “and I know them by heart.  I think, altogether, I was taking seven medications.

“They didn’t usually force you,” he said of his drug regimen.  “They would manipulate you.  ‘You take your pills and we’ll talk about rewarding you for making the right choice.’

“Safe Choices sounds like wrong choices to me,” he added.

Why would the program have pushed him together with Joe?

“They wanted to manipulate the system,” he said Monday, “to keep him on probation longer.”

Asked the same question last May, Smokey had a slightly different answer.

“To pin things on us,” he said.  “To experiment.”

If his state-appointed guardian hadn’t put him in the Safe Choices program at 18, Smokey was asked Monday, what would his life have been like?

“I probably would have had a normal life,” he replied.  “A family; a decent job.”

And why, finally, was he sharing these embarrassing moments of his life with a newspaper?

“To get justice on how I feel and how I was treated — and others in the program, too.”