Investigator: School Destroyed Video It Was Ordered to Preserve of Students Being Shocked

Associated Press/January 18, 2008

A special education school destroyed videotape showing two of its students being wrongly given electric shock treatments despite being ordered to preserve the tape, according to an investigator's report.

One student was shocked 77 times and the other 29 times after a prank caller posing as a supervisor ordered the treatments at a Judge Rotenberg Educational Center group home in August. The boys are 16 and 19 years old and one was treated for first-degree burns.

The Disabled Persons Protection Commission planned to release the report Tuesday concluding that one of the teenagers was severely physically and emotionally abused by the treatments. The commission has referred the case to the Norfolk district attorney's office.

The videotapes compiled footage from cameras inside the home in Stoughton. An investigator with the commission, which examines abuse allegations and can refer cases for criminal prosecution, viewed the tapes and asked for a copy, according to the commission's report obtained by The Boston Globe.

But school officials declined, saying they "did not want any possibility of the images getting into the media." The investigator told the school to preserve a copy so state police could use it in their criminal investigation. A trooper later told the investigator the tapes had been destroyed.

School spokesman Ernest Corrigan said school officials worried the images would be leaked to the public, further disrupting the lives of the two students who were wrongly shocked.

Earlier this week, the school's founder and director Matthew Israel said the tapes were reviewed by several investigators and were not preserved because the investigation "seemed to be finished."

The Judge Rotenberg Center is the only one in the nation that uses shock treatments for its special education students, most of whom are mentally retarded, autistic or emotionally disturbed.

Parents praise the shock therapy as the only treatment that has helped their children, but critics say it's abusive and often administered for only minor infractions. State Sen. Brian Joyce, who has long sought to ban shock therapy from the school, said Israel and his staff should be investigated for obstruction of justice.

"I believe the tape was intentionally destroyed because it was incriminating," said Joyce, a Democrat. "I intend to ask the attorney general to investigate."

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