Recap / Law And Order S 5 E 19 Cruel And Unusual

A man and woman walk home from a reunion when a young adult begins to harass them. He's holding his hands strangely and appears to be high. He repeatedly asks the time, then attempts to seize the man's watch. The man pushes him to the ground just as cops drive by. When the man attempts to steal the cop's watch, he's arrested. At the precinct, Logan and Briscoe put another suspect in holding with the disabled man, who begins slamming his head against the wall. Logan, Briscoe, and Profaci rush to restrain him, and Logan manages to grab him, but the youth collapses and dies.

Logan is talking with Internal Affairs officers. Logan says that the kid was stoned, went crazy, had to be restrained, and then died. The officers grill Logan, and Logan gets defensive. Later, Van Buren says that the officers have a point — Logan has a history of rough behavior. Logan gets snappish and complains about being stuck to his desk. Van Buren says that he's working at a desk until the investigation is over.

Later, ME Rodgers reports that the youth died of a blood clot. Profaci says that people die of strokes in their sleep, but Rodgers says that there's evidence of trauma to his head and neck. The body is bruised all over, and has restraint marks, but has no evidence of sexual trauma. A bruise on his neck is what caused the fatal blood clot. Profaci remarks that Mike will be cleared now.

Logan enters an evidence locker and tells Briscoe that Internal Affairs is satisfied. They go through the dead guy's things and don't find much besides clothes and a movie ticket stub. They find a concessions guy at the store who remembers the youth; he said the youth paid for his meal in 300 pennies, and left screaming. He left just after the movie started; he began wandering around up by the screen and was thrown out by the ushers. He left his coat, which the detectives take. They find a lot of public transportation schedules in the pockets. The detectives decide that, since the youth was clean and shaven, he probably had a home. They go to check Missing Persons.

George and Eleanor Jeffries talk about their son Kevin, who they say ran away from a clinic. Kevin was autistic, although he was supposedly improving shortly before he ran away. The detectives talk about the investigation, and George names the clinic as the Behavioral Control clinic. George also says that Kevin began hurting himself at the age of ten and so probably inflicted the injury on himself. The head of the clinic, Dr. Alan Colter, was helping Kevin to express himself better and to stop hurting himself.

At the clinic, Colter shows the detectives into the room. He says that Kevin fled out of a fire exit. Logan says that they need to see Kevin's roommate, but Colter says that the roommate, David Vilarde, is mute and didn't see anything anyway. Briscoe finds a hockey helmet with many nicks; Colter says that Kevin wore it so that, when he banged his head against the wall, he wouldn't be seriously hurt.

"That's why Kevin was here. So we could modify that behavior."
"Modify. No disrespect to you, doctor, but the way you say that is making my skin crawl."
—Alan Colter and Mike Logan

Colter says that Kevin and others at the clinic are sometimes restrained when in a self-injurious cycle, but adds that Kevin wasn't being restrained as often as when he first arrived. Logan shows Colter a picture of Kevin's bruised corpse and asks for an explanation; Colter says the wounds were probably self-inflicted.

Some doctors describe the restraint technique used to immobilize the self-injurious patients. One doctor says that there weren't any neck restraints, and adds that Kevin was restrained for about four hours a day the past week. Kevin didn't like it, but the doctors forced him into the restraints. Logan asks if the doctors assaulted Kevin because he resisted their restraints, but the doctor opens a window to show an autistic student banging his head against a wall before slumping.

"Bad days, they don't stop."

Logan and Briscoe say that the bruises could have been self-inflicted. Van Buren reads Rodgers's report — Kevin also had electric burns. She points out that those probably weren't self-inflicted.

The detectives talk to Colter again. They bring up the electric burns, but Colter says all shocks were mild and part of an aversion therapy program — misbehaving students were shocked, pinched, or sprayed with pepper juice so they would learn to behave differently. Colter says that the alternative to shocks and restraints is drug-induced sedation, which he doesn't believe in. He emphasizes that shocks are only used to stop the patients from hurting themselves, and offers to try it on Logan to show how harmless it is. Logan accepts.

"This oughta be fun."
—Lennie Briscoe

Logan flinches and says he'd rather get his teeth drilled.

"You call that therapy?"
"Yes. So does the state of New York."
—Michael Logan and Alan Colter

A worker at the state Health Services agency says that aversion therapy is common, although only Colter uses shocks. The state believes that the shocks work and subsidize Colter — $175,000 per year per patient, and he has 83 patients. Colter has been audited and always passes; additionally, Colter had applied several times to increase the maximum allowable voltage — the patients were developing tolerances to the electric shocks. The board of directors saw progress in the patients' files, so they approved the voltage increases. The worker says that the parents have to consent and that everything is monitored closely. Briscoe doubts that anyone would allow their children to be shocked all over their body, but the worker says that the shocks are only administered on the limbs. Furthermore, there's a limit on the number of shocks administered in any given hour. Logan says that Kevin had electric shocks on his torso and back, and the detectives leave.

The Jeffries say they knew about the shocks. Briscoe says that Colter was using the electrodes in ways he wasn't allowed to, but George says that Kevin was supposedly almost cured and the electrodes were rarely used on him anymore — according to Colter.

The detectives talk with Van Buren. Logan says that Kevin was being abused so that Colter could keep his subsidy money. Briscoe points out that they have no evidence that the shocks weren't actually helping the kids. Van Buren follows the abuse angle.

"If you thought your kid was being abused, what would you do?"
"This is America. I'd sue the bastard."
"Maybe someone did."
—Anita Van Buren and Michael Logan

The detectives see Serena Davidson in her home. She says that her daughter Cathy was transferred to the Lynchburg clinic, and she's made miraculous progress. Davidson says that electrodes and pepper juice were used at the Behavioral Clinic, but Lynchburg uses positive reinforcement, which is working much better. Briscoe asks if Davidson knew about the electrodes and Davidson says that she did — she got the same demonstration that Logan did — but claims that she was desperate. Briscoe asks why she sued Colter, and Davidson says that Colter put Cathy in a "medieval torture helmet." Logan asks if this is just the helmet used to protect the kids' heads, but Davidson says no.

"They call it the 'Buzz Box.'"
—Serena Davidson

The Buzz Box is a sensory deprivation helmet — it blocks their vision and buzzes a white noise so they can't hear anything either. Davidson shows the detectives a photograph of the helmet, which looks similar to the other helmet, but is red. Cathy was kept in the helmet for three days straight, developed bruises on her neck, and passed out. The injuries to Cathy's neck were very similar to those on Kevin's. Colter settled the lawsuit, and the state banned the use of the helmet.

Rodgers, looking at the photo and the evidence from the Davidson case, says that it's probable that the helmet killed Kevin, but she needs the helmet itself to be certain. Back at the clinic, Briscoe and Logan force an orderly to open the door to get in. As they begin opening random doors inside the clinic, the orderly protests that Colter isn't there and, when asked about the Buzz Box, says that they aren't used anymore. Logan finds a treatment room and makes the orderly open the door. Inside, another doctor is giving electric shocks to a prostrate kid; the shocks are on the kid's back. Other police officers report that there weren't any Buzz Box helmets on the premises, but Logan asks Kincaid, who came in with the uniformed officers, if they can arrest the doctor delivering the shocks. Kincaid orders the doctor, Joe Garvey, arrested for assault. Briscoe frees the kid from the shocks.

Garvey's attorney, Marya Levinson, says that Garvey was just doing his job.

"'I was just following orders. Where have I heard that before?"
—Jack McCoy

Levinson says that Garvey is just a comp-lit major who needed money to pay bills. He doesn't decide the punishments. McCoy asks if Colter knew about the shocks, and when Levinson says that Garvey will need immunity first, McCoy says that any offers will be dependent on Garvey's information. Garvey says that Colter strapped the boy in, put electrodes on him, and said that he should be shocked every ten minutes (more often than the 4 shocks per hour allowed by law). Colter told Garvey that it was a part of the aversion therapy. He doesn't recognize the Buzz Box.

McCoy asks Olivet if Colter is practicing legitimate therapy. Olivet says that aversion therapy with electric shocks was popular 20 years ago, but was since discredited — the patients develop a tolerance for the shocks. They demonstrate short-term improvements, but once the patients are tolerant, the bad behavior returns. Colter has a stellar resume and his entire reputation is dependent on the aversion therapy working. McCoy wants Colter picked up.

Colter and his attorney, Professor Norman Rothenberg, talk to McCoy. Rothenberg is dismissive.

"Assault? Next you'll arrest my allergist for injecting me twice a month."
—Norman Rothenberg

Colter protests that everything he did was part of the therapy and was state-sanctioned, but Kincaid says that the shocks they saw being performed were delivered more often than allowed, and were 20 times stronger than the industry average.

"They're closer to cattle prods than anything used on humans."
—Claire Kincaid

Colter begins to rant that he knows better than the Albany bureaucrats, but Rothenberg cuts him off. He says that he stopped using the Buzz Box when asked about it. When he says that Kevin was out of control and injured himself, Kincaid points out that Colter told the Jeffries that Kevin was almost cured. McCoy says that it doesn't matter if Colter was a sadist, a fanatic, or a con-man, but either way he's a criminal. Rothenberg gives McCoy a motion to dismiss.

Rothenberg tells Judge Joseph Rivera that Colter's program just extends the famous B. F. Skinner's ideas. He says that medical treatment is often painful, and cites chemotherapy as an example. Rivera says that there's a difference between electric shocks and chemo, but Rothenberg says that the actions were only assault if Colter either intended to hurt the patients or did not obtain consent. He brings up the improvement that the students showed, and this seems to sway Rivera, but McCoy says that Colter broke all sorts of state regulations and may not even have produced any improvements. Rothenberg says that the only criminal issue is whether or not the parents gave consent. Rivera decides to ask the parents whether or not they knowingly consented to the electric treatments.

Rivera interviews one parent, who says that she hated seeing her child in pain but knew it was for the best. She says she knew that the shocks were being administered more often than the state allowed.

"If it worked I didn't care."

She continues that several experts thought that her son Robby would never improve, but now he has a job.

Another parent, Al Golden, testifies next. His child was heavily self-injurious. He says he doesn't care about the state regulations and that he should be the one to say how often and how intense the shocks were. Rivera thanks Golden and dismisses him, then tells McCoy and Rothenberg that he's satisfied that the parents gave consent. McCoy brings up that the therapy was still unauthorized and violated state guidelines, but Rivera says that such violations only merit an administrative hearing, not a trial. The assault charge is quashed.

In his office, Schiff says that this wasn't unexpected — no one wants the state telling them how to raise a kid. The lawyers talk about the case, and Schiff says that, while the consent eliminates any chance of an assault case, it isn't an issue for a murder trial. McCoy says that they need the helmet to press a murder charge, and Colter probably smashed it once he learned Kevin died. Kincaid says that she found something in the Davidson suit files — there were 13 defendants at first, but one was dropped later. Kincaid says that the dropped defendant, Josh Bingham, may have made a deal in return for testimony helping the plaintiffs.

Bingham, taking a break from coaching basketball, tells Kincaid that he worked for Colter for three months and was then named in a lawsuit. He agreed to testify for the Davidsons and wrote a huge affidavit stating what was going on at the clinic, which was horrible. After he learned about the Buzz Box, he began looking for another job. He says that Colter probably isn't using the Buzz Box anymore, for risk of a lawsuit, but directs Kincaid to a Francine Randazzo. Randazzo worked at the clinic even after the Davidson lawsuit, but was recently laid off, and so might be willing to tell Kincaid.

Randazzo confirms that the clinic still used the Buzz Box after the lawsuit, albeit less. She also confirms that the Buzz Box was used on Kevin, and he was sometimes strapped down for three days or more with the Buzz Box on. Later, the detectives arrest Colter while he's at the clinic.

"Excuse me, he's with a patient!"
"Then we're just in time."
—Nurse and Lennie Briscoe

Rothernberg mocks the idea that Randazzo will be a good witness — she worked for Colter for a long time without raising any objection, and only expressed her concerns after being fired. Colter insists that his clinic no longer uses the helmet.

"Misguided as the state's decision was, we went along with it."
—Alan Colter

Rothenberg says that Kevin's roommate, David Vilarde, will testify that the helmet wasn't used on Kevin. McCoy says that Vilarde is autistic, and Kincaid says that Vilarde is also mute, but Colter says that Vilarde can still sense the world around him and can communicate with the help of a facilitator.

In a conference room, Rothenberg explains the facilitation procedure. Mrs. Vilardi, David's mother, will hold David's hand to stabilize it, and David will press keys on a computer. McCoy asks if David knows why he's there, and gets a 'yes' answer. The Vilardis answer McCoy's questions — David only saw Kevin wearing the white hockey helmet. McCoy asks several times, but keep getting negative responses.

"Kevin only wore the white helmet. Not the red."
—The Vilardis

McCoy and Kincaid tell Schiff that they don't think the facilitated communication was for real — there's no evidence that David Vilardi is even literate. Olivet adds that, after he began communicating, his IQ was retested — it was near what his mother's probably was. Olivet says that facilitated communication is not supported by the scientific community. McCoy says he'll move to get the technique excluded from the evidence, meaning that David won't be able to testify.

McCoy and Rothenberg argue before Judge Rivera. Rothenberg says that autism is so poorly understood that there isn't really anyone with enough expertise to say that facilitated communication doesn't work. McCoy cites prior court rulings, but Rothenberg says that those judges were just prejudiced against disabled people. McCoy says that he just wants to be certain that David, and not his mother, is the one testifying. Rivera decides to hold a hearing with expert witnesses, and to have David Vilardi testify as well.

Dr. Ira Chaikin testifies that he's seen no evidence that facilitated communication works, but Rothenberg makes him admit that some universities study it and that there are other scientists who support it. Dr. Gerard says that he's seen the technique used successfully, and that the technique is gaining acceptance with teachers and parents, but McCoy makes him admit that there isn't any real scientific evidence in favor of the technique, and that there aren't even any procedures to evaluate the technique. The Vilardis testify last. Mrs. Vilardi says that David communicates well with facilitated communication; David expressed a sense of humor and a sense of attraction towards girls.

"After all these years, I found my child."
—Mrs. Vilardi

McCoy asks Mrs. Vilardi to look away, and she does once Rivera orders her to do so. McCoy shows David a picture of a bird, then lowers the picture, has Mrs. Vilardi turn back around, and asks David to type what he just saw. David types that it was a car. Mrs. Vilardi protests that David was just nervous, and asks to let him try again; after viewing it, he types that the image was a flower. Colter holds his head and looks upset. Rivera excuses the Vilardis, and Mrs. Vilardi protests that the test wasn't fair. She asks Colter to help explain why the test was bad, but he says nothing.

Kincaid feels bad about having to tell Mrs. Valerdi that she was talking to herself for several years, but Schiff says that it's Colter's fault, not theirs. Kincaid says that no one admitted to seeing the Buzz Box used, but McCoy remembers that the Vilardis mentioned in their first interview that neither Kevin nor David ever wore the "red helmet." Kincaid realizes that they couldn't have known the helmet was red unless they saw it used.

Cooking, Mrs. Vilardi is evasive, but eventually has to admit that she's seen the helmet used. She never saw it used on Kevin, but did see it used on her son. She still thinks that David developed improvement at the clinic, and that the helmet was important.

"He broke his fingers biting into them. He spent weeks throwing himself on the ground. Now he tells me he loves me."
—Mrs. Vilardi

McCoy tells Colter and Rothenberg that Mrs. Vilardi will testify for them. Rothenberg points out that she never saw it used on Kevin, but Kincaid says that Colter definitely authorized its continued use, so it's not a stretch to say that it was used on Kevin. Rothenberg and Colter whisper, and then Rothenberg says Colter will plead no contest to manslaughter in return for a sentence of a fine and community service. McCoy says he wants a guilty plea and a two year sentence, as well as for Colter to surrender his medical license and close his clinic.

"You want to put me out of business, huh?"
"We understand each other perfectly."
"You may not like my methods, but they get results!"
"You beat a dog often enough, it'll stop barking. Maybe it'll even do tricks for you. But I wouldn't call that humane."
—Alan Colter and Jack McCoy

Colter rants that everyone else is repulsed by his patients, but that he and he alone can fix their "broken lives." McCoy points out that Kevin's life is gone forever.

"Can you really tell me he's not better off?"
—Alan Colter

McCoy can only gape at first, but he recovers and says that, combining the subsidies and the evidence from the Davidson case, Colter will be doomed at trial.

In court, Colter pleads guilty. McCoy says that Colter knew his therapy didn't work, but just turned up the voltage in order to keep faking it. In the hall, Mrs. Vilardi catches up to the lawyers. She says that McCoy made them close the clinic and now she doesn't know what to do with David. She says she can't take care of him herself.

"Do you want him, Mr. McCoy? Can he go home with you now?"
—Mrs. Vilardi

She leads David away.