April 12, 2012 -- A video showing hours of a kind of shock therapy given to an 18-year-old has been shown in court after years of protests by the mental health institution that administered the electric jolts.
Andre McCollins, a former resident at the Judge Rotenberg Center for behavioral therapy in Canton, Mass., is suing the center for what he claims were abusive practices, including the use of shock therapy.
The video ,played in court Tuesday, shows McCollins, now 28, screaming in protest as the staff of the center are about to administer the therapy one day in October 2002.
McCollins is strapped face down and restrained by staff, yelling for help with the fear evident in his voice before the shocks are administered. In another scene, he is seen running away from doctors and trying to hide before they once again use the painful therapy on his skin.
McCollins' body stiffens and shakes, and the teenager screams and begs for help while being shocked. On the day the video was taken, McCollins was shocked 31 times, according to testimony.
The controversial pratice, known as "aversive therapy," is used to treat individuals with severe behavior problems including self-mutilation, according to the center's website. The website claims that the staff administers a shock to a small surface area of the skin, lasting between one and three seconds. The therapy must be approved by the patient's parents and a judge, according to the site.
McCollins' mother, Cheryl McCollins, told the courtroom that she had no idea the instituttion would be "torturing" her son, according to Boston news channel Fox25.
"I never signed up for him to be tortured, terrorized and abused," Cheryl McCollins told the jury. "I had no idea, no idea, that they tortured the children in the school."
ABC News exclusively reported on the controversial school in 2010, when a member of the United Nations called on the United States to investigate the electric shock practices.
"To be frank, I was shocked when I was reading the report," Manfred Nowak, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture, told ABC News. "What I did, on the 11th of May, was to send an urgent appeal to the U.S. government asking them to investigate."
In response, the school released a statement to ABC News equating the practices of skin shock therapy to routine medical procedures used by medical doctors.
"It is just as ridiculous to equate JRC's aversive therapy (which is court approved, on a case by case basis) with torture as it is to call a surgeon's knife cutting into flesh an 'assault with a dangerous weapon,'" they wrote. "If a two-second shock to the surface of an arm or leg can stop a behaviorally disabled child from blinding himself through eye-gouging, from pulling out all of his own teeth or from starving himself to death, no sensible person would refuse to use such a humane treatment. The alternative is to be drugged into insensibility, restrained, secluded and warehoused in a state mental hospital--in effect, a form of living torture."
Andre McCollins' mother, Cheryl McCollins said that she found her son three days later in a "catatonic" state when she visited the school, and took him immediately to Children's Hospital in Boston. He was diagnosed with acute stress response caused by the shocks, she said.
"I couldn't turn Andre's head to the left or the right. He was just staring straight. I took my hands and went like this," she said, waving them as if in front of his eyes. "He didn't blink."
The school's founder, Matthew Israel, spoke with ABC in 2007 about the shock therapy equipment that he developed and then implemented at the Rotenberg Center.
"The real torture," Israel said, "is what these children are subjected to if they don't have this program. They're drugged up to the gills with drugs that cause them to be so sedated that they essentially sleep all day."
The Rotenberg Center had protested the video being shown in public. The video had been sealed for the past eight years by a judge, but Superior Court Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara lifted the seal and the video was shown during the lawsuit trial.
The Rotenberg Center's attorney, Edward Hinchey, said that though the video is hard to watch, the therapy was administered correctly.
"These are dramatic tapes, there's no question about that. But the treatment plan at the Rotenberg Center, the treatment plan that Andre had in place on Oct. 25, was followed," Hinchey said.
The McCollins were not able to be reached for comment as the trial continued today in Massachusetts.
The Rotenberg Center did not return calls for comment.