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3 injured in brawl at group home

Canton police may seek charges in altercation

By Patricia Wen
Globe Staff / June 29, 2010

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A 30-minute brawl erupted in a Canton group home run by the controversial Judge Rotenberg Educational Center on Friday, sending three of its eight teenage residents to the hospital, police said.

Canton police Lieutenant Patty Sherrill said her department may press criminal charges in this altercation, which involved students as well as a half-dozen staff members, some of whom had donned helmets.

Five officers were sent to control the fight that erupted inside the home at 198 Turnpike St. around 9:20 p.m. after a student called 911. “In my 17 years here, I’ve never seen anything like this,’’ said Sherrill, who was at the scene. At one point, she said, one of the teenage males turned to her and whispered: “Miss, you have to get me out of here. I fear for my safety.’’

The home’s residents attend classes at the Rotenberg Center.

The students’ injuries included a broken wrist, nose, and hip. Sherrill said the fight may have started when a student resisted bedtime instructions from a staff member, though details remain unclear. The center has video cameras running round-the-clock at all its facilities, and Sherrill said she will be requesting the tapes from Friday’s altercation.

For nearly four decades, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center has generated nationwide controversy for disciplining students with electrical skin shocks, but center officials and police said such shocks were not involved in Friday’s incident.

Ernie Corrigan, Rotenberg spokesman, said none of the students at the Canton group home have state-approved plans allowing this behavioral-control method. Corrigan said administrators believe staff acted “appropriately’’ in the situation, and had put on helmets for their safety. He said the home serves “emotionally disturbed’’ adolescents and he does not yet know what triggered the fight.

The center’s main campus is also located in Canton, while group homes are scattered there and in nearby communities. Most of the center’s 200 students have behavioral disorders, autism, or intellectual disabilities. Under state-sanctioned procedures, roughly half wear electrodes attached to their skin, and staff members can remotely trigger 2-second shocks through a hand-held device.

State Senator Brian Joyce, a Democrat from Milton who has struggled for years to shut down the school, said Friday’s brawl is yet another example of why the center’s methods are “barbaric.’’

Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com.

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