A West Bloomfield Township family will get $1.8 million to settle a lawsuit against the police department, after the father was prosecuted and jailed after being accused of sexually assaulting his severely autistic daughter — a prosecution that eventually imploded.
The charges against Julian Wendrow were dropped for lack of evidence in March 2008, after he had spent 80 days in the Oakland County jail. His wife, Thal Wendrow, was also jailed, and the girl, 14, and her brother, 13, were placed in foster care for months.
The settlement was made public in district court filings today.
The Oakland County prosecutor’s case was based almost solely on statements the daughter reportedly made using facilitated communication, a widely discredited method in which the child typed on a keyboard with the assistance of a school aid. The girl, who does not speak and functions on the level of a two-year-old, reportedly typed that her father had been raping her since age seven. Prosecutors pursued the case, even though a physical exam showed no sign of assault.
The family sued in federal court in 2008, alleging 38 counts of false imprisonment, wrongful prosecution and other misdeeds.
The Wendrows named the police department as a defendant in part because of a two-hour interrogation a detective conducted with the 13-year-old boy, shortly after his parents arrests, wrongly telling him they had videotapes of both the boy and his father sexually assaulting the girl. The boy had no adult representative present for the interview.
Joseph Brusseau, the detective who remains on the police force, later admitted in depositions that was untrue. The boy, who suffers from Asperger's, a milder form of autism, can be seen in a video rocking and crying during the interview and insisting that neither he or his father had assaulted anyone.
The Free Press obtained a copy of the video of the interview and the parents said they had no objections to putting it on Freep.com.
“They pushed this thing in spite of literally having no evidence of any kind of abuse, other than this Faciliated Communication nonsense, which is in effect a Ouija board,” said Bloomfield Hills attorney Deborah Gordon, who represents the Wendrows. “What the police department did was unbelievably horrific.”
William Hampton, the attorney representing the police department, said the settlement was “nothing more than a business decision by the insurance company, with no admission of wrongdoing or of any liability.”
And he said the department would investigate the case the same way again, including the interrogation of the boy and the jailing of the father.
“We’ll assess everything, but really, right off hand, I can’t think of anything they would do differently because we really don’t think they did anything wrong.”
Facilitated communication has been widely dismissed by experts worldwide because studies show it is the aide who is actually doing the typing. Nevertheless, the Wendrows had pushed the school district to use it, hoping their daughter might be able to succeed in school work.
Oakland County prosecutors, who are also named in the suit, admit in depositions that they did not investigate the method prior to charging the Wendrows, and could not find anyone to support the method as reliable, despite calls nationwide after their arrests. They pursued the prosecution nevertheless. The charges were dropped in March when the girl was unable to type a single answer to questions posed to her in district court.
The Wendrows will be in federal court Thursday, where the prosecutors, and two other defendants, Walled Lake Consolidated School District and the Michigan Department of Human Services will argue to have the case dismissed because of governmental immunity.