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Massachusetts Governor, Attorney General Sued for Civil Rights Atrocities

by Nancy Farrell
August 21, 2014

The Holliston law firm of Brendan J. Perry & Associates, P.C. has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against Governor Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley for violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. At the heart of the suit is the abusive restraint of mentally ill patients in State facilities.

The Holliston law firm of Brendan J. Perry & Associates, P.C. has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against Governor Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley for violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. At the heart of the suit is the abusive restraint of mentally ill patients in State facilities.


The attorneys for the Estate of Jason Davis have filed a complaint in Federal court today against Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley for discrimination against their client in violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The complaint asserts that the State's settlement with the family of another young man Joshua Messier, who died as a result of a beating at Bridgewater State Hospital, discriminates against their client.

Jason Davis, a young man, suffering from severe mental illness, was an involuntary inpatient at Westborough State Hospital on August 12, 1993. On that day while being restrained after having broken the rules, he was brutally beaten by a mental health worker, while other staff restrained him and a psychiatric R.N. stood by and watched. The nurse said to the beaten, broken young man, "This is what you get [for breaking the rules.]"

In 1998, Christopher and Terance Perry, with their late father Brendan Perry, tried Jason Davis' case in Federal court against the State mental health workers who beat him and the charge nurse who stood by and watched. The jury found them guilty. The court ordered $1.6 million in damages to be paid to Jason Davis for the horrible beating. The judgment has not been paid. It has been 21 years of court and legislative battles since Jason Davis was beaten by the State workers charged with his care. But the State made a multi-million dollar settlement with Joshua Messier's family. William Davis, Jason's father, said, "The Governor recently characterized the Messier case as 'awful', 'horrible', 'tragic' and 'disgusting.' He was right. The same can be said about my son's case."  The State has never publicly acknowledged the torment of the beating Jason got that day or their denial of responsibility for it.  

"From 1993 to present date the Commonwealth's treatment of Jason Davis and his family has been nothing short of barbaric. Simply one civil rights atrocity layered upon another for a twenty-one year period. All the while, the State’s actors have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the tragedy that is the Jason Davis case. Not once has any Massachusetts elected official publicly acknowledged Jason Davis. This is nearly impossible to believe given the civil rights atrocities which he was forced to endure -- at the hands of the State -- and the novel and substantial contribution which he made to our Nation’s constitutional landscape," says Christopher Perry.

In a 17 year legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court, the State has argued that it was not responsible for their employees' guilt for brutally beating an involuntary mentally ill inpatient at a State facility. The Supreme Court rejected the appeals by the State. Though the State did pay the judgment of $177,000 for one of the seven defendants, it has tried everything to avoid paying the judgment for its employees' guilt.

The problem, or one of the problems, here is a Massachusetts General Law indemnification statute that prevents the State from covering the damages for an employee whose damaging behavior is intentional. When Christopher Perry sought advice from Governor Deval Patrick in 2008 about how to resolve the payment of damages to his client, Jason Davis' father, William Davis, Governor Patrick advised Perry to pursue the legislative route in order to bypass this indemnification statute. In 2013, a bill was filed by Representative John Rogers of Norwood, co-signed by Representative Carolyn Dykema, to authorize the $2.1 million payment ordered by the Federal court. In the last sessions of the State legislature, earlier this year, the bill, amended to $500,000, roughly 25% of the total judgment, passed the House. A budget amendment to pay $2.1 million in damages in the Jason Davis case was then introduced by Senator Karen Spilka to the State Senate, and failed, but, later, a payment of $500,000 was approved in the State FY '15 Joint Budget conference. And this amendment was vetoed by Governor Patrick on July 11, 2014. He commented "I am vetoing this item because state law prohibits indemnifying employees under these circumstances."

Christopher Perry is unwilling to accept this, "It cannot be after a 17 year legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court where the Commonwealth, through its Attorney General, contended that it was constitutionally permissible for convicted violent felon State employees to savagely beat an involuntarily committed mentally ill inpatient while other DMH staff members looked on and did nothing. The U.S. Supreme Court would have none of it. We shouldn't either."

The original Jason Davis case created a legal mechanism to make what may seem like a small change to how mentally ill people are cared for in mental health facilities. As a result of this case co-workers must intervene if they see abuse or mistreatment. It might stop the hiring of convicted felons with histories of violent behavior as mental health aides. It is a law that has been honored by its use in about 190 cases across the nation. It needs to be honored in the State where it was created. "My brother Terance and I look forward to this next phase of litigation where we will again seek justice in the Federal courts for the wrongs outlined with exactitude in our filed complaint. We will not stop until this wrong is remedied. Nor could we," Perry says.

Using the most basic of legal principles, equal protection under the law, Christopher and Terance Perry continue to fight for the verdict to be honored. "The sole purpose of the Equal Protection Clause is to protect every person in every State from intentional and arbitrary discrimination resulting from either the plain text of a statute or by its improper execution by State agents,"  Christopher Perry reminds us. The complaint seeks to uphold a standard by which involuntary mentally ill inpatients have equal protection under the law -- separate but equal.

For me, it is the use of violence to solve problems that is at the root. The mental health aides were trying to calm Jason Davis down. They were disciplining him, taking control, with their fists. Wherever it happens, at our borders and beyond, in our streets, in our prisons and care facilities, in our homes, violence is not the answer. For the Executives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to endorse the violent treatment of Jason Davis by his caretakers in a State facility by dancing around an indemnification issue is shameful.

These photos of Jason Davis are exhibits from the 1998 trial. 

"What should never be lost on our citizenry," Christopher Perry comments on the legal battle, "is precisely what Jason Davis fought off in three Federal courts: Massachusetts Attorneys General who were determined to convince the Federal judiciary, including the U.S. Supreme Court, that it was constitutionally permissible for Charge Nurses and Mental Health Care Workers to stand idly by while their fellow employees beat bloody an involuntarily committed mentally ill patient in their presence. If Jason Davis had not prevailed the safety of our mentally ill citizens would have been in peril. The constitutional line of cases, which bear his name, are clearly some of the most important decisions ever rendered in the history of our Nation for the protection of the mentally ill."

We do not know how to take care of the mentally ill. There aren't enough beds or trained caretakers. And so now we are sending them, our fellow humans, to prisons as if mental illness was a crime.  I cannot imagine a more terrifying existence than to suffer from the inner turmoil of mental illness within the violent walls of prison. But Jason Davis' life at Westborough State Hospital was pretty terrifying if you think about it. His ward was controlled by a group of people whose first instinct was to use their fists to control his disease. We need to find ways to offer better protection and more care. Acknowledging the beating of Jason Davis by his caretakers is one important step on the way. Admit that a wrong was done, and honor the court's judgment, say  'I'm so sorry that this awful thing happened to your son in a State care facility.'  

What I want to know about the public servants we elect to guide us in governing is what influences the decisions they make. Fairness, to my mind, should be the goal, the ideal. The complaint filed today demands fairness in this one case which may seem small but reflects so much about the perception and treatment of mental illness. For what reason, did our governor and attorney general decide to uphold the indemnification statute to deny the jury's guilty verdict in Jason Davis' case, but then to ignore it to acknowledge the egregious death of Joshua Messier?  If you know Christopher Perry, you know he speaks his mind. He says, "When the Governor and Attorney General stand trial for their civil rights deprivations it will be proved then, as set out in the Federal Complaint, that their disparate treatment of Jason Davis was motivated by spite, politics and whimsy."  Whatever their reasons, they have shown without any explanation that what happened to Jason Davis is not their problem.

I do not intend in any way to diminish or compare the horrors of the death of Joshua Messier with these, my, words in defense of the case to bring justice to Jason Davis' family. Christopher Perry has worked to bring justice to Jason Davis, hoping that full accountability and full acknowledgement of the wrongs would bring about a change, foster an awareness of the enormous risks of untrained staff using brute force to control mentally ill patients or inmates. He hoped, as does the Messier family, that a young man's death would not be in vain if it could be prevented from happening to yet another.

But it did and will. There is no sign that the lessons of these cases are being learned in our State offices. Without criminal prosecution or full acknowledgement of a Federal court verdict, they walk away from the problem relatively unscathed, to hope it doesn't happen again.

William Davis, the plaintiff in this case, Jason's father, looks at it this way, "I know that money will never bring back my son nor will it fully compensate our family for the torment visited upon him on August 12, 1993. However, what I do know is that the payment of the judgment in my son’s Federal Civil Rights case will finally mark a place in time where the Commonwealth admits that it was both wrong and not above law. It will also cement the proposition that the historic laws Jason made will be neither in vain nor unappreciated by the very government which subjected him to the torment which he suffered on August 12, 1993 and thereafter."



Boston Globe article by Michael Rezendes, "Patrick Takes Sweeping Disciplinary Actions in Bridgewater State Hospital Death"

Holliston Reporter article by this author






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Comments (9)

The Hippocratic Oath requires all physicians to promise to abstain from doing harm to their patients. By extension all healthcare workers providers including nurses,mental health assistants, etc., are required by law to do the same: FIRST, DO NO HARM. Massachusetts finally ordered restitution to the Messier family for the death of their on at the hands of abusive mental health aides but only after the family appealed to the Supreme Court. Massachusetts tried its legal best to avoid culpability in this wrongful death but were judged guilty. Justice was served in this case.Given this legal precedent established by the Messier case, what were Governor Patrick and Attorney General Coakley thinking when they tried to dodge restitution to the Jason Davis family?

- TL Phillips | 8/26/14 1:46 PM

Thank you Ms. Farrell for reporting this story.It doesn't surprise me that these two politicians on "Bacon Hill" haven't got a clue as to what public service, integrity, and honor mean when you take the oath of office! Eleven(11) million dollars to renovate the governor's office...meanwhile,they eliminate the proper resources to provide for people who are in dire need of help such as Jason Davis, yet, are more concerned with the rights of law breaking illegals coming into our country and state. And yes, where is the OUTRAGE?! Shame on the governor and attorney general! Do us all a favor and leave public office immediately or do the right thing, unfortunately option #2 is out because apparently you don't have a clue as to what the "right thing" is!

- Anthony "Tony D" D'Antonio | 8/25/14 9:57 AM

Thanks for your excellent report, speaking truth to power. I cannot believe how the gov and AG totally tried to bury the Davis case. The arrogance and stupidity! Just stunning! The truth will out thanks to you and the Perrys.

- T.L. Phillips | 8/25/14 9:41 AM

Good question, Joe. I'll look into it today. Nancy

- Nancy | 8/25/14 9:37 AM

How does the sitting Governor and Attorney General in Ma.get sued for civil rights violation in federal court last Friday and not one word in any Boston paper or on c any local TV station.Do they have that much power to stifle the media..I'm glad to see you ran with it ...Thank you JoeO

- joseph oliveri | 8/25/14 8:06 AM

Any authority figure that makes decisions regarding the mentally ill need to be trained properly. Physical restraint and physical abuse can leave damage for many years to come.

- Pam Zicko | 8/24/14 9:55 PM

What a heart breaking story. Thanks for explaining the legal details and pointing out the tragic situation so many of our most vulnerable citizens now suffer in a political system that seems held hostage to "profits over people"

- Pat | 8/22/14 8:17 PM

Good on you for fighting this all the way. The mentally ill have enough problems without being subjected to gratuitous state-sponsored violence.

- Peter | 8/22/14 11:43 AM

How can the State not pay a bill and expect everyone else to pay them. This is a shame,both that Jason Davis was hurt by state workers, but also by the state by not honoring their court order to pay

- John W Barrett | 8/22/14 10:53 AM



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