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Father frustrated for years in gaining guardianship of his intellectually disabled son

Stan McDonald readily acknowledges that his mildly intellectually disabled son, Andy, was dangerously out of control one evening nearly 25 years ago when, living with his father and stepmother, he made threats in two instances to two female children who were their neighbors in Sherborn, MA.

Andy’s behavior has improved greatly since then, McDonald says.  Yet, due to a series of misinterpretations about the incidents that occurred in 1990, Andy is still considered to this day by both his court-appointed guardian and the probate court to be a danger to his community.  As a result, he has been prohibited from ever returning to his hometown, and Stan has been deemed unfit to be his guardian for advocating for supervised home visits for him.

In many respects, Andy’s case is similar to that of Sara Duzan, a young woman who, as we’ve reported, has been living in a group home with no contact permitted with her family. Both cases appear to illustrate the dangers to family members of giving up guardianship of an incapacitated person for whatever reasons, and they show how court-appointed guardians fail to act in the ward’s best interest in many of these situations.  In 1986, Stan and his former wife agreed to the appointment of a guardian for Andy as part of the settlement of a longstanding custody battle over him.

The history of Andy’s care is one in which court-appointed guardians and clinicians have consistently overridden the wishes of his family members, leading, in many cases to disastrous results.

In Andy’s case, contact with Stan and Andy’s stepmother, Ellen, has not been cut off, although their contact is restricted.  Stan and Ellen are allowed to visit him in his group home in Westborough two to three times per month, and Stan, now 78, is allowed to call Andy, now 46, once or twice a week on the phone.

Stan, Andy, and Ellen McDonald on an outing from Andy's group home in 2012.

Stan, Andy, and Ellen McDonald on an outing from Andy’s group home in 2012.

Stan and Ellen are also permitted to take Andy on outings in the community near his group home.  But the position of the probate court and of Andy’s current guardian, Dennis Yeaw, a Shrewsbury-based attorney, is that Andy is sexually dangerous even though he was never charged with a sexual offense. Yeaw has had some 100 wards in addition to Andy.

Not only is the prospect of Andy’s ever returning home not even to be discussed, but a probate court judge ruled in 2006 that Stan McDonald must personally tell his son, in the presence of clinicians, that his son would never be allowed to go home again.  McDonald said he has refused to say something like that to Andy, contending it would severely depress him and would be a violation of their rights of freedom of speech and association.

Andy has not exhibited any significant behavioral problems in close to a decade and has been taken on community outings to many places other than his home without any behavioral incidents, according to Stan and to notations in his clinical care plan.  Yet, he has in the past told clinicians that he has had sexual fantasies about children; and that, combined with a mistaken probate court finding that he was arrested for sexual offenses in 1990, appear to have led the court to ban him for life from visits home.

In 1995 and 1996, Andy was allowed three supervised visits to Stan and Ellen in their Sherborn home, and those visits took place without incident, according to Stan. After that time, however, the visits were prohibited for no clear reason, Stan says.

Misrepresentation of his arrests

In a 2006 ruling in which he denied Stan’s bid for guardianship of Andy, Middlesex County Probate Court Judge Edward Rockett stated that Andy had been arrested in 1990 for sexual assaults of three young girls who lived across the street in Sherborn.  That was not true, however. Two arrest reports from that year tell a much different story.

Andy was arrested in May 1990 for threatening an unidentified person during a telephone call, according to the district court record.  The nature of the threats was not disclosed.  In July of that year, he was charged with disturbing the peace in downtown Sherborn after he followed a young woman and allegedly threatened to kill her father, according to a Sherborn Police Department report.  That same day, he was charged with assault after he punched Ellen, his stepmother, the same report stated. Stan says Ellen had driven Andy to the police station for his own protection after the incident in downtown Sherborn.  On the way, he says, Andy was flailing his arms in protest and struck Ellen unintentionally.

There is no indication in the police reports that Andy ever sexually assaulted anyone. Immediately after the July 1990 incidents, Stan McDonald had Andy committed to McLean Hospital in Belmont.

Andy’s care under court-appointed guardianship was marked by inappropriate placements and decisions

Over the years, Andy has been subjected to inappropriate residential placements and treatment, in many cases because a series of court-appointed guardians, state agencies, and providers made the wrong decisions regarding his care, Stan says. Stan makes an exception for Stefan Grotz, the first in the series of Andy’s guardians, who was appointed as part of the agreement between Stan and his first wife in their divorce.  Grotz authorized Stan to be his personal representative in Andy’s care, but Grotz stepped down as Andy’s guardian in 1991 because he felt he lived too far away from Andy’s then placement at Westborough State Hospital.

After he was admitted to McLean Hospital in 1990, Andy was first sent to Taunton State Hospital when McDonald’s insurance ran out, and subsequently to Westborough State, a Department of Mental Health facility.  Stan had originally applied in 1989 for a placement for Andy in a Department of Developmental Services facility, but his eligibility was originally denied.  Stan appealed, and DDS approved Andy’s application as a client in 1990; but by that time, Andy was in Westborough State, where he remained as a DDS client until 1993.

The Westborough State placement was inappropriate.  Andy had earlier been found not to be mentally ill by DMH, which had determined that he would actually be harmed if housed in a facility for persons with severe mental illness.  That turned out to be the case.  He “deteriorated” in Westborough State Hospital for three years, Stan says.  Stan was prohibited from visiting him for months at a time.  In January 1993, Andy was sexually assaulted at the hospital by another patient.  When the hospital refused an independent investigation, Stan says he filed a complaint with the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, which found the hospital negligent.

According to Stan, when Andy was admitted to Westborough State, he was non-psychotic and medication free.  But after months of confinement in a locked ward with severely mentally ill and violent patients, Andy acted out in frustration, kicking over a trash can at one point.  The staff’s response was to begin medicating him, which only increased his frustration and depression, resulting in increasing medications, in a vicious cycle.

Stan says DDS finally placed Andy in his current group home in 1993.  Today, he says, Andy’s care in the Community Resources for Justice group home is very good, and Stan’s and Ellen’s relationship with the current staff in the residence is excellent.  However, the care in Andy’s early years there was frequently substandard.

In a sworn affidavit in 1999, Cameron Fraser, a staff worker in the group home in 1994 and 1995, stated that a manager of the residence told him in December 1994 that “‘he (Andy) brings in a lot of money to this program,'” and that it was “necessary to document in the daily log regular behavioral instances” in order to ensure that Andy would remain in the program.   Fraser said he observed a number of instances in which the manager deliberately incited Andy into fits of rage, which required the staff to place him in restraints.

Fraser also stated that the cupboards in the group home were frequently bare of food while he was there and the residents were often fed “the barest of meals, lacking basic nutritional values…” In addition, Fraser said that while other residents of the facility were allowed out on un-escorted walks,  Andy was confined to the premises because he was considered a threat to the community.  However, Fraser said he always found Andy to be “respectful and courteous to all  around him.”  Fraser further noted that Andy’s spirits were always buoyed by visits from Stan and Ellen.

Stan says that for many years, Andy’s dental care was inadequate as well, and that court-appointed guardians did little or nothing to improve that. In 1994, after his admission to the Community Resources for Justice group home, seven of Andy’s teeth were found to be badly decayed, but nothing was done about that for five years.

Around 1995, Stan says, he persuaded Andy’s then guardian to have Andy sent to Andy’s family dentist, who was shocked at the condition of his teeth and wrote to the then director of the group home, suggesting a stringent regime of dental hygiene for Andy.  Stan says the group home director not only ignored the dentist’s advice, but ordered that Andy not return to the dentist.  In 1999, Andy had to have two teeth extracted, and in 2007, he had to have three additional tooth extractions and multiple fillings under general anesthesia.

In addition, Andy was over-medicated for many years with Stelazine, an anti-psychotic drug, which caused him to develop Tardive Dyskinesia, a disorder  resulting in involuntary, repetitive body movements.  Court-appointed guardians, he says, did little or nothing to address that problem either.  Stan personally got a court order and paid for an independent evaluation of Andy’s medications. This resulted in discontinuing the Stelazine and replacement of the prescribing doctor.

Today, the major problem with Andy’s group home is that it has become crowded with the addition of a fifth resident, and some of the residents have mental illness and escape impulses, making it necessary to keep the residence locked and the door alarmed, Stan says.  As a result of the intense supervision needed for those residents, Andy gets few opportunities for fresh air and exercise.  Also, the other residents of the group home are either 20 years older than Andy or are less functional intellectually and behaviorally, he says.

Supporters urge restoration of Stan McDonald’s guardianship of Andy

In May of last year, State Representative David Linsky, wrote a letter in support of Stan’s appointment as Andy’s guardian, noting that he has known Stan for 14 years and “can personally attest that he is deeply committed to his son Andy’s care and only wants the best for him.”

John Carroll, a former residential counselor to Andy at the Cardinal Cushing School, wrote to the Department of Developmental Services in June to say that he has frequently observed visits to Andy by Stan and Ellen, and that “I have seen theirs to be a bond that is unique and irreplaceable. Stanley’s and Ellen’s dedication to Andy’s care and treatment in all circumstances leaves no question in my mind that Stanley McDonald is the sole individual with the knowledge, experience, and love, deserving to have responsibility for major decisions in Andy’s life as guardian.”

And Stefan Grotz, the original court-appointed guardian in the case, wrote in 2002, after he had stepped down from that role, that “never have I met a more passionate advocate for a son than Stanley McDonald.” He strongly recommended to the court that McDonald be appointed as his son’s guardian. Stan McDonald maintains that if he was appointed as Andy’s guardian, he would keep Andy in his present program and would agree to having Andy’s supervised during visits home.

On January 6, I sent an email to Scott Harshbarger, Board president of Community Resources for Justice, the nonprofit organization that operates Andy’s group home, and asked whether he would consider supporting supervised home visits for Andy and the restoration of Stan McDonald’s guardianship of his son.   I have not received a response from Harshbarger, who is a former Massachusetts attorney general and former president of the citizens watchdog group Common Cause.

Questions raised about Andy’s dangerousness

In his 2006 ruling, Judge Rockett cited testimony from the clinical director of Andy’s group home that Andy had told him he had had sexual fantasies about children and was therefore sexually dangerous.  Rockett concluded that returning home to Sherborn had “acquired a magical meaning for him (Andy)” and that he must never be allowed to return there.  But Rockett also acknowledged in his ruling that there was testimony as well that Andy “will always say what he thinks other people want to hear.  This causes his statements to be very inconsistent.  He will say one thing to his father and the opposite to a staff person.”

McDonald contends the misstatement in Rockett’s ruling that Andy had assaulted three young girls was based on misinformation provided to the judge by the Department of Developmental Services.  Andrew’s court-appointed guardian, Dennis Yeaw, however, has consistently cited Rockett’s ruling in denying home visits to Andy. In an email to COFAR, Yeaw defended his position and maintained that “Mr. McDonald is the only person, well maybe Mr. McDonald’s wife as well, who thinks it’s OK for Andy to go to Sherborn.”

But not all clinicians have supported the ban on Andy’s returning to his hometown.  In 2000, Ronald Ebert, a psychologist, recommended that the staff of Andy’s group home try a “trial visit” to the Sherborn Inn to hear Stan, an acclaimed jazz musician, play in his band if it could be demonstrated that the persons Andy was accused in 1990 of threatening no longer lived in town. In fact, Stan says, those persons had moved away as of that time.  “If such visits can be managed successfully, there is no reason why they could not be built into his visit schedule…,” Ebert wrote.  But Ebert’s recommendation was never heeded, and visits to the Inn have not been allowed.

There is no doubt that the conditions under which Andy lives have greatly improved in recent years.  But it seems to us that those in charge of Andy’s care still haven’t fully recognized the progress that Andy himself has made over the years.

There is no question that the charge that Andy is sexually dangerous is an explosive one. But the record regarding this charge contains misinformation and contradictions.  The insidious nature of a charge of sexual dangerousness, if it is untrue, is that it has been used and could be used at any time in the future to restrict Andy’s freedom to a much more extreme degree than is even now the case.

Stan notes that a clinical team report or assessment was done of Andy’s level of disability in 2012 for the probate court, but neither Stan nor Ellen were interviewed for that assessment. The probate court’s instructions for completing clinical team reports, however, state that clinicians should interview the individual “and persons who know him/her well” (emphasis in the original) in conducting those assessments.  Neither Stan nor Ellen were provided with a copy of the report or informed of its conclusions.

We think a new and independent clinical evaluation should be done that takes into account Andy’s current record of behavior and includes input from his family and others with knowledge of Andy.  We would also hope that such a report would be provided to Stan and Ellen for their review and comment.

After all, it is only family members in this case — namely Stan and Ellen — who have shown they have the knowledge and unconditional love and support needed to provide the best possible care for Andy.

  1. January 27, 2014 at 12:41 am

    I received the following response to this post from Stan McDonald, who asked that I post it on his behalf:

    Father’’s struggles for intellectually disabled son. Injustices in custody, guardianships, school, hospital placements. 17 years denied visits home.

    I greatly appreciate Dave Kassel’s COFAR post about my decades of trying to protect and assert my son, Andy’s rights and needs for proper care, treatment, and appropriate placements – through attempts to gain guardianship or in advocating for him with those in authority. Having lived every minute of this long and ongoing travesty, naturally I am flooded with the details and nuances of our experience. While Dave effectively captured the spirit of our situation and pattern of injustices. I would like to reinforce his post with some additional historical facts and detail.

    The background to the appointment of Stefan Grotz as guardian in 1986 bears determinatively upon Andy’s quality of life and our very situation today.

    In 1985, pending resolution of disputes about Andy’s care and school placement between myself and Andy’s mother, my former wife, Maxine, Andy was in my temporary custody with my present wife, Ellen (married in 1981). A custody trial ensued and went on intermittently for two weeks between September and December, 1985, presided over by Judge Sheila McGovern.

    With my and Ellen’s guidance, and despite his behavioral issues, Andy had been intensively evaluated and accepted by the Tri-Country Vocational School in Franklin, a convenient commute from our home in Sherborn. Andy was eagerly looking forward to attending, but during that entire three-month period –- and over the objections of our special needs director — McGovern refused to allow him to do so, on grounds that it might “prejudice the outcome” of the trial. In other words, if he adjusted well at Tri-County, how could she then justify a decision to send him elsewhere?

    The outcome was for McGovern to award custody to Andy’s mother, on her promise that if she were given custody, she would send Andy to the residential, Kolburne School, 100 miles away – the appropriateness of which placement had never been evaluated. That decision was against strong testimony by Andy’s psychologist, his psychiatrist, his Guardian Ad Litem, David Lee, and then court-appointed attorney, Stefan Grotz; each of whom warned that to remove Andy from my and Ellen’s loving care would be inappropriate and harmful to him.

    Andy had eagerly looked forward to attending Tri-County and was devastated to be thereupon taken from us and sent to Kolburne, as promised, in January 1986, against his will, where he deteriorated, emotionally and physically; plucking-out his eyebrows and becoming incontinent.

    I obtained an evaluation of Kolburne by a special needs expert, George Krein, who determined it to be inappropriate — as earlier predicted. When Andy turned 18, in June, 1986, this was now a guardianship issue. Rather than have a repeat of the disastrous custody battle, this was now settled in an out-of-court agreement between me and Andy’s mother. in choosing Stefan Grotz to be Andy’s guardian. Attorney Grotz thereupon returned Andy to live with me and Ellen, designating me as his personal representative in all matters affecting Andy’s care and treatment, about which we communicated closely and were in substantial agreement. As explained below, the manner of and reason for Stefan’s appointment were, years later, grossly misrepresented.

    In 1989, I had applied to DMH for Andy’s eligibility. After a formal assessment, they determined that Andy was not psychotic and warned that he would be harmed if housed with the seriously mentally ill. I then applied for DDS services but Andy was denied because his IQ, about 75, was over their threshold of 70. I then began a prolonged appeal on grounds that his intellectual and developmental handicaps required such structure and services as they could provide.

    My appeal was still pending on the day after Andy’s threatening behavior in July, 1990, when with Stefan’s approval, I got him voluntarily admitted to McLean Hospital for proper treatment, which he received in a welcoming environment — until in September, my insurance ran out. Most regrettably, Andy was then committed to Taunton State Hospital and, in October, 1990, to Westborough State Hospital, where he deteriorated pitifully — as DMH had predicted — over the next three years.

    Three weeks into that situation, my appeal was decided in Andy’s favor, and he became a DDS client, yet had to remain in the terrible conditions of WSH until November, 1993, when DDS finally found his residential placement in Community Resources for Justice. This was CRJ’s first such venture, and Andy was its first client — in a group home in Westborough, which was moved to Northborough in 2010.

    In 1991, Stefan Grotz had chosen to resign due to distance (he lived near the Kolburne School), and differences with the hospital, which later managed — over my and Andy’s mother, Maxine’s objections — to get its choice of guardian, Peter Salgo, appointed to replace Stefan. Under Salgo’s authority, Ellen and I were for months restricted from visiting Andy. It was Salgo who later falsely claimed that both Grotz and he had been appointed because I and Andy’s mother had been “found unfit.” (As explained above, there had been no hearing, hence no finding of any kind.)

    That statement emerged in the course of a complaint I made when Andy was sexually assaulted in the hospital (which he reported to me) in 1993. When Salgo refused an independent investigation of that incident, I complained to the Disabled Persons Protection Commission which found the hospital negligent and interviewed guardian Salgo, who made the above false claim to them. The DPPC checked court records and issued an amended report correcting Salgo’s lie. (DPPC Case# 9306)

    The on-going significance of this bald falsity that we were “found unfit” is that it has continued to be used — out of ignorance or deliberate calculation — by DDS and others as a false precedent to allege that Andy must have a non-parent guardian; specifically to subvert my attempts to replace current guardian, Dennis Yeaw, deceptively appointed by DDS in 2003.

    Failed Legal Representation of Andy. His preference for guardian

    In 1991 — against Andy’s devout wishes — Westborough Hospital replaced his original court appointed attorney, Robert Woernle, with Brigit Gassner. Woernle had effectively represented Andy since his 1989 misdemeanor charges. After being replaced, he visited Andy regularly in the hospital. They remain close friends ever since, in regular phone contact and with Bob attending Andy’s birthday parties. Andy misses Bob’s former role.
    Gassner has never directly represented Andy’s needs or wishes, inducing him to waive his appearance at hearings ever since her appointment. In 2005, in the course of my failed attempt to replace Dennis Yeaw (when the false charges that Andy had committed sexual assault were first alleged), Attorney Gassner asked me, “Do you think that Andy wants you to be his guardian so he can have visits home?” This loaded question made clear both her long-standing awareness of Andy’s wishes and her hostility to them, to which she made no other reference through the trial. Not that his preference for guardian would be determinative, but in failing to directly state that on his behalf, she clearly abdicated her legal duty to represent him (regardless of her opinion). Andy now wants and deserves the opportunity to assert himself in person, and recently refused to sign her waiver of his appearance in the coming matter of Dennis Yeaw’s replacement.

    Replacement of Current Guardian. Clinical Review Team

    The Clinical Review Team process was invoked in October 2012, under DDS auspices, in response to Dennis Yeaw’s announced retirement and their search for his replacement. This process is required upon any change or modification of guardianship. Said team — comprising a social worker, doctor and psychiatrist or psychologist — is mandated to evaluate the individual’s current needs or changes in them. In so doing, they are specifically charged with consulting people who know the individual personally. They never did so. We were shut out of the process every step of the way.

    Following is substantially what I wrote in response to the director of Andy’s residential program, after receiving non-answers from his DDS service coordinator, who had denied my understanding of these requirements, and refused to give me names of the participants or copy of their findings, as “confidential.”

    “… I am asking if you would please send me a copy of the CRT findings, or at least provide me with their names so that we may communicate directly. In stark contrast to DDS policy makers, clinicians and present guardian, who have little or no contact with us, they should have sought and welcomed input from Andy’s father, step-mother, and life-long friends — as well as your caring staff, who for years have directly observed these relationships, recognized their vital importance to Andy and unstintingly praised our love and care for him. The Clinical Team is required to obtain such input from people who know a person’s history, needs and values, as should qualify whatever aspects of his life need be delegated to a guardian. Obviously, the first person to meet these criteria is a natural parent, so you may understand why we are insulted not to have been consulted.”

    I received no response from any of the parties to this procedure. The condition, per the court dictum — that unless I tell Andy he can never again visit home, I am to be denied any direct communication with Andy’s clinicians — has apparently been interpreted to include this Team — despite their mandate to communicate with family and those who know the individual well.

    This distinction makes COFAR’s recommendation for an independent evaluation all the more imperative: “We think a new and independent clinical evaluation should be done that takes into account Andy’s current record of behavior.” This is an absolute necessity to determine appropriate care for Andy now and into the future.

    In 2005, I independently obtained a court order for a comprehensive assessment of Andy’s needs and placement, but this was pre-empted and never took place when Andy was then sent to Templeton, to have his medications “adjusted” under their authority.

    Denial of Andy’s Wishes for Visits Home. Treatment Response.

    COFAR documents that early in the CRJ program, Andy was deliberately provoked and set-up to act-out to justify and support the program’s restrictive existence. His present treatment appears to be invested in a similar self-fulfilling policy by medicating his natural reactions to groundless and cruel denial of his wishes to visit home.

    While Andy’s behavior has manifestly improved since the change of medications at Templeton, this has been accompanied by continued deterioration in his handwriting, and most notably in his speech, which is often so rapid, pressured and slurred as to be unintelligible, requiring constant prompts to slow down and repeat himself. This appears to be symptomatic of extreme anxiety, and/or a side-effect of medications, although we are not entitled to confer about this or received an opinion from his prescribing doctor.

    In talking with us recently, Andy reported that Dr. Sorrentino had just made some changes in his medications. Asked what purpose they’re supposed to serve, he was able to express that they are to alleviate his “anxiety” and “nervousness,” but he could not be more specific or name the medications. When I told him we are not allowed to talk with Dr. Sorrentino, he asked incredulously, “How come?,” When I asked if she ever inquires about his family, he answered that he tells her he wants visits home, but she responds that his wishes are “inappropriate,” refuses to discuss, and “she screws me over.”

    Anxiety is Andy’s most salient symptom, obvious to anyone meeting him a first time. It should be equally obvious to any conscientious observer (apparently not Dr.Sorrentino) that, in refusing to let him even express his wishes, they compound the effects of denying their fulfillment; thus creating Andy’s conflicted reaction — torn between intimidating voices of authority and his normal, needs and wishes. Thus they ignorantly (or conveniently) contrive to ignore Andy’s vulnerability and cruelly instill in him the very anxiety — in extremis — for which they medicate him,


    Over the decades of enduring these unbearable injustices, I had hoped that each twist and turn or change of guardianship might bring opportunity for Andy’s needs to be responsibly recognized and responsively addressed; that appropriate treatment must at some point follow. Yet I feared that if I complained too much, Andy would be used in retaliation; e.g. in further deprivation of visits — as a former ombudsman, one Barbara Clurman, had recognized and told me — “to beat you with.”

    Indeed, her predictions came true in DDS and CRJ attacking my advocacy and taking despicable advantage of Andy’s disabilities — the crowning irony being that the experience and knowledge of Andy that his current direct care staff have attained, continues to be ignored by those who endorse the restrictive policies reinforced by guardian Dennis Yeaw. In thus denying recognition of Andy’s needs, wishes, and positive potential, they compound and take advantage of the very disabilities they are supposed to be treating.

    They apparently fear that allowing Andy even a “trial” visit home, might be no less “successful” than his regular community outings everywhere else – yea, that this might result in a much happier and less anxious Andy. But to test that prospect seems to pose too great a risk to their 17 years’ investment in rationalizing such deprivation; too risky even to give Andy a chance to validate the DDS’ standard they call “The dignity of risk.”

    Analogies to such reverse engineering, as revealed in the Duzan, and now Pelletier cases – and how many unreported? — deserve the common-sense attention of the public, and that of the highest ranking policy makers in our beloved Commonwealth.

    COFAR has my thanks and admiration for the integrity of their post and allowing me to add historical context. I am especially grateful to Andy’s and our many friends and advocates for their understanding and support of our aspirations.They will also understand that my deepest gratitude is to our beloved Andy; for his faith in our “quality bond,” as he defines it, and most of all in the courage to express himself — despite intimidation — that will always sustain me and Ellen in supporting his needs and wishes.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Stanley M. McDonald, Jr.


  2. December 5, 2022 at 11:13 am

    Hi thanks for postinng this


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