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"Cruel and Unusual"
L&O, Episode 5.19
Production number: 69423
First aired: 19 April 1995
  th of 456 produced in L&O  
th of 456 released in L&O
  th of 1229 released in all  
Mrs. Vilardi and David Vilardi
Written By
René Balcer & Michael S. Chernuchin

Directed By
Matthew Penn

Plot

The opening features a couple walking home from a reunion. A young man approaches them and he repeatedly asks for the time and then tries to seize the man's watch. The couple calls the cops, but the man also tries to take one of the cops' watch and he is arrested. At the precinct, Logan and Briscoe notice the man slamming his head against the wall in the cell. They and Profaci rush in to stop him from hurting himself, but he dies.

After Logan finishes his talk with Internal Affairs, the other officers criticize his behavior. Van Buren places him on desk duty until the investigation due to Logan's outburst. ME Rodgers reports that the man died from a blood clot and points out to various traumas on the man's head and neck and numerous bruises all over his body.

Logan and Briscoe speak to an employee of a concessions stand at a movie theater, who remembers the man and said the encounter was bizarre. The man gave the employee 300 pennies, but refused to take them, therefore the man started screaming. During the movie, witnesses said the man was pacing around the front of the screen and some ushers kicked him out. The man left his coat behind, which the pockets have transportation schedules. Logan and Briscoe decide to check missing persons.

They find the man's parents George and Eleanor Jeffries who explain that their son Kevin was autistic. They say he was staying at a clinic for treatment, but he ran away. The parents thought he was improving because he had a history of self injury since the age of ten. George gives the name of the clinic.

At the Behavioral Control clinic, the head doctor Alan Colter said the goal for Kevin was to improve his expression of himself and stop his self injury. He shows the detectives Kevin's room and says he escaped through the fire exit. The detectives want to talk to Kevin's roommate, but Dr. Colter says David Vilarde is mute and was not in the room when Kevin escaped. The detectives notice a hockey helmet with nicks and scratches. Dr. Colter says Kevin wears it to prevent from hurting himself against the wall. Dr. Colter also explains that Kevin and the other patients are restrained during an autistic meltdown to prevent serious injury. The detectives show a picture of Kevin's body that features numerous bruises. Dr. Colter suspects that they are self-inflicted.

The detectives talk to some of the other doctors who explain the restraining process. One of the doctors said that they can't use neck restraints and Kevin was be in restraints for over four hours a day in the last week he was at the clinic. The detectives then ask if they assaulted Kevin because he hated the restraints.

Logan and Briscoe talk to Van Buren who read ME Rodgers' report on Kevin. He also had electrical burns on his body. They talk to Dr. Colter again who says they use aversion therapy, which inflicts a shock on the person to stop them from hurting themselves, but Dr. Colter insists they use mild shocks. He also says it is better then other uses to stop misbehaving patients. Logan accepts to be shocked and he flinches.

The detectives speak to a Health Services employee who explains that Dr. Colter is the only doctor who uses shocks, even though aversion therapy is common. The state gives Dr. Colter $175,000 per patient a year and he has 83 patients at his clinic. The employee reveals that Dr. Colter was demanding higher voltage usage because the patients were becoming intolerant to the shocks. The employee mentions that a patient's parents must give consent before going through the therapy and that it must be monitored closely. The employee also says the shocks must be administered on the limbs and not anywhere else on the body. Logan says there were electrical burns on Kevin's torso and back.

The detectives talk to the Jeffries who say they gave their consent to Dr. Colter to use electrolytes on Kevin. George Jeffries says that Kevin was almost cured according to Dr. Colter, but the detectives suspect that Kevin was being abused at the clinic. They talk to Van Buren and Logan suspects that Dr. Colter was abusing his patients to keep the subsidy money. Briscoe also points out that the electrical shocks weren't helping any of the patients.  The detectives meet Serena Davidson and her daughter Cathy, who is also autistic. Serena says Cathy was transferred to the Lynchburg Clinic and she showed miraculous progress. Serena says that Lynchburg uses positive reinforcement, but the Behavioral Control used pepper spray and electrical shock on Cathy.

Senera also reveals a photo of a "medieval torture helmet", which is similar to the helmet Kevin had. Serena says that the helmet, also called a "Buzz Box" blocks the user's vision and administers white noise so they can't hear anything else. Senera says Cathy wore the helmet for three days, in which bruises developed on her neck. Senera sued the clinic and Dr. Colter settled out of court. The helmet was banned in the state of New York, but Dr. Colter still uses it. The medical examiner checks the bruises from Cathy and they match the bruises that Kevin had. The ME needs the helmet to be certain. 

Briscoe and Logan arrive at the clinic and interrupt a shock session on a patient. Dr. Joe Garvey administered the session and used the helmet on the patient. Kincaid files assault charges on Garvey and he is arrested. Garvey, however, said that Dr. Colter ordered the session and use the helmet on the patient. Dr. Colter also ordered Garvey to shock the patient every ten minutes, which is more than the state legally allows in an hour. 

The attorneys receive the case and McCoy asks if Dr. Colter is practicing legitimate therapy. Olivet says that aversion therapy with electrical shocks was popular 20 years ago, but it has been discredited since the patients develop a tolerance to it. Dr. Colter is picked up for questioning.

Dr. Colter, with his attorney Professor Norman Rothenberg, protests the charges by saying what he did is part of the therapy. Kincaid points out that Dr. Colter ordered stronger shocks on patients, at least 20 times more stronger than the state allows, and accusses Dr. Colter of using something similar to a cattle prod. Rothenberg refuses to let Colter discuss about the helmets. Both attorneys say that Colter lied to the Jeffiers by saying Kevin was cured, when in fact, he was getting worse. Rothenberg gives McCoy a motion to dismiss. 

At the hearing, Rothenberg tells the judge that the program extends to B.F. Skinner's famous ideas, but Judge Rivera says there is a difference between electrical shock and chemotherapy. Rothenberg brings up a list of patients that "improved" under Colter's program and that the only crime committed was that the parents never gave their consent. Judge Rivera decides to asks the parents if they gave their consent to the therapy.

One parent comes forward and says her child was in pain, but she said the therapy worked. Her son Robby improved so much that he got a job. Another parent says he doesn't care about the state regulations because his child would hurt himself so much and the therapy also worked. Rivera is satisfied with the parents who gave their consent, but McCoy brings up that the therapy was still unauthorized and violated the state guidelines. However, Rivera drops the assault charges. 

McCoy is convinced that the helmet Kevin had would bring up a murder charge on Colter. Kincaid brings up Serena Davidson's lawsuit and it shows that there were 13 defendants, but one dropped out. The dropped defendant, Josh Bringham talks to Kincaid about working at Colter's clinic. He was horrified with Colter using the Buzz Box's and left the clinic. Bringham tells her about another employee Francine Randazzo. Francine tells Kincaid that Colter still uses the helmets, even after the lawsuit was settled. She also tells Kincaid that Kevin was strapped down with the helmet for three days, possibly more. Dr. Colter is arrested at his clinic. 

Before the trial, Rothenberg points out that Kevin's roommate David is mute, but Colter says that David can communicate with the use of a facilitator. The process is explained to David and his mother and David says on the facilitator that he only saw Kevin with the white helmet, not the red one. 

McCoy and Kincaid are convinced that the communication on the facilitator was not real. Rothenberg argues that autism is poorly understood and that there not enough experts to say that the facilitor's communication was legit. McCoy points out prior court rulings, but Rothenberg says that people are prejudiced against disabled people. Judge Rivera decides to hold a hearing and have experts in the court. He will also allow David to testify. 

An expert points out that the facilitator has been gaining popularity in schools and homes, but McCoy has the expert admit that there is no scientific evidence in favor of the technique. David's mother Mrs. Vilardi testifies with David by saying he does extremely well with facilitated communication. McCoy decides to test David's knowledge and orders his mother to look away during the test. McCoy first shows a picture of a bird, but when the mother turns back, David puts in car. Mrs. Vilardi protests that David was nervous and asks McCoy to do it again. David fails again by putting in flower. 

The attorneys suspect that Mrs. Vilardi is being evasive and ask her about the "red helmet". Mrs. Vilardi says she saw the employees use the helmets, but she believes David improved better than before. The attorneys tell Rothenberg and Colter that the doctor continued to use the helmets and that it was used on Kevin. Colter and Rothenberg want a deal that Colter will plead no contest to manslaughter in return of paying a fine and community service. McCoy wants a guilty plea, in which Colter must surrender his medical license and close his clinic. 

Colter then goes on a rant that everyone is repulsed by his patients, but he and he alone can fix their "broken lives". McCoy points out that Kevin is gone, but Colter asks if Kevin was better off dead. Colter pleads guilty at the trial. McCoy says that Colter was increasing voltage, but he knew it wasn't working. Mrs. Vilardi, with David stops the attorneys and tells them that David is lost without Dr. Colter. She says she can't take care of him and asks if McCoy will take him, but she takes David away. 

Cast

Main cast

Recurring cast

Guest cast

References

Quotes

Concession stand clerk: Doesn't look too good.
Lennie Briscoe: Well, he wasn't feeling too well when we took the picture. You see him last night?


Alan Colter: And that's all there is to it.
Mike Logan: That's all? I'd rather have my teeth drilled. You call that therapy?


McCoy: You've seen it being used, haven't you? I can compel your answer, Mrs. Vilardi.
Vilardi: Yes. I've seen it.
Kincaid: On Kevin Jeffries?
McCoy: They use it on your son?
Vilardi: It works, Mr. McCoy.


You beat a dog often enough, it'll stop barking. He might even do tricks for you. But I wouldn't call that humane.

–Jack McCoy

Kincaid: He still has them convinced he was saving the children.
Jack McCoy: The only thing he tried to save was his reputation. He knew the therapy wasn't getting results, and instead of admitting he was wrong, he just turned up the voltage.
Mrs. Vilardi: Mr. McCoy! You're made them close the clinic. Why?
McCoy: Mrs. Vilardi.
Mrs. Vilardi: They sent him home. I can't take care of him. I don't know what I'm going to do with him. You took away the only place he had. Do you want him, Mr. McCoy? Can he go home with you now? I didn't think so.


Background information and notes

  • Revealing mistakes: When David Vilardi types out the word "FLOWR" with the help of his mother, in the courtroom, his hand never goes near the 'F' on the keyboard.
  • The story is based on the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, one of the few autism management centers that uses electroshock as aversion therapy.
  • The day the episode aired, Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and wounding more than 800 people.
  • This episode marks the television debut of Steve Burns, who would go on to star as the host of Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues from 1996-2002.

Episode scene cards

1 2 3

Medical Examiner's
Laboratory
Wednesday, February 23

Apartment of
Mr. & Mrs. George Jeffries
665 W. 47th Street
Wednesday, February 23

Behavioral Control Clinic
40 Second Avenue
Thursday, February 24

4 5 6

New York
Developmental
Health Agency
Monday, February 28

Home of
Mrs. Serena Davidson
701 E. 83rd Street
Wednesday, March 2

Chambers of
Judge Joseph Rivera
Friday, March 11

7 8 9

Apartment of
Francine Randazzo
440 Ovington Avenue
Tuesday, March 15

District Attorney's Office
Conference Room
Monday, March 21

Supreme Court
Trial Part 86
Monday, April 25


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"Privileged"
"Cruel and Unusual"
Law & Order
Season 5
Next episode:
"Bad Faith"
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