By Albert Samaha
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The federal inspectors also weren't very impressed with the work being done in other parts of the center. Checking in on common areas, inspectors found 100 or more patients crammed into rooms for testing, group therapy, or educational presentations, some of whom had fallen asleep while staff members chatted about teenage fashions or current events. Medication was dispensed to calm down agitated patients, but was not documented appropriately. Patients who tried to injure themselves were put in wrist-to-waist restraints, but still emerged bloody. A patient in one of the coed wards alleged that she had been raped by a fellow patient after a staffer left a post. (The accused rapist was not from the sex offenders' ward.) For these and other problems, the feds threatened to cut off the center's funding.
That threat resulted in a flurry of policy reviews, policy changes, and staff trainings at the center. The sex offenders' ward was caught between two contending authorities: The feds wanted the center to release these men, who were burning through wads of taxpayer dollars with no treatment, but state law required the facility to keep them locked up for voluntary therapy. Ultimately, the Manhattan Psychiatric Center told the federal government that it couldn't release the patients and refunded the $60,000 that the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid had paid to treat them. From then on, the entire bill for that program would be footed by state taxpayers. The facility did make one concession: It changed the sex-offender treatment program, finally allowing the men to continue on to phase two without signing a consent form. Many of the men in the ward have since begun treatment in earnest, but reportedly at just six hours a week. (The Office of Mental Health couldn't confirm that number. A spokeswoman said the men are offered a miminum of 20 hours of programming per week, but couldn't provide a breakdown of how many of those hours were devoted specifically to sex-offender treatment.)
At a probable-cause hearing in April, Michael Parker towered above four court officers as they released him from his leather wrist-to-waist restraints. He was back in court, but for once he was not the defendant. He was there fighting the state's attempt to commit him indefinitely to a psychiatric facility. At 53 years old, he has only a bit of gray hair and wears a youthful pair of crisp black Nikes. He sat passively as the proceedings began.
According to the Office of Sex Offender Management, which was created by legislative action last spring, 36 sex offenders were committed to psychiatric facilities during the first year of New York's new civil-confinement law. Another 139 were identified for "civil management"—either commitment to a psychiatric facility or long-term, intensive parole. Many of these men's cases are sealed, but documents obtained by the Voice provide a glimpse into the criminal histories of a few men identified as sexually violent predators with "mental abnormalities." They are:
Christopher James, 26, whose life was disastrous from the start. He was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, causing a lack of oxygen to his brain, and two genetic syndromes that cause eye-movement problems, small testicles, and reduced fertility. By seven months old, he was banging his head against things—the first sign of developmental delays. At four, he was kicked out of special-ed preschool for behavioral problems, and at nine, a cyst was found in his brain, which was drained but unable to be removed. All of these early problems, according to a state psychiatrist, contributed to what came next: an inability to control deviant sexual behavior. James was kicked out of his house and arrested for his first offense at age 19, after a seven-year-old girl accused him of touching her vagina. Out on probation, he was arrested a second time for fondling a 17-year-old girl while she was sleeping. That incident was caught on tape after the family he was living with put cameras up because they thought James was stealing from them. By 2005, he was behind bars and in trouble for violently raping a fellow inmate. He was going to be released in February, but has been civilly committed and will remain in a psychiatric facility indefinitely.
Stanley Dixon, an aging pedophile who racked up six sex-offense convictions from 1964 to 2002 in New York, North Carolina, and Connecticut. Dixon claims that he was sexually abused by his father and uncle as a child, and physically abused by his mother and foster family. After being arrested for sodomizing an eight-year-old boy in 1968, his first sex offense, he told police: "I didn't think I had a problem, but I did. I did it three more times." He molested and sodomized several boys ranging in age from eight to 15 over the years, serving a short sentence after each conviction. Then, in 1973, he pulled a gun on a 20-year-old woman and forced her to give him oral sex. In 1990, he was arrested after pulling a razor on a 26-year-old female acquaintance and sodomizing her for several hours. Only three months after his release for that crime, Dixon was arrested again for repeatedly molesting his girlfriend's 11-year-old daughter and her 12-year-old friend. He was supposed to be released last August, but has been detained in a psychiatric facility instead.
Shawn Short, a pedophile convicted of vaginally and anally raping a six-year-old girl in 1992. Short was also accused of molesting the girl's two-year-old brother, but never charged. After serving 10 years, Short was released on parole and was soon accused of victimizing children again. His parole was revoked eight months after his release, when he was accused of molesting his girlfriend's three-year-old son. Those charges were dropped, but a state psychiatric examiner petitioned to have Short put on "strict and intensive supervision"—basically lifetime parole with an ankle bracelet.
Freddie Johnson, who made headlines in April for his 53rd arrest, this time for rubbing against a young woman on the No. 6 train. Previously, the attorney general's office had tried to get the 49-year-old repeat sex offender committed to a psychiatric facility, but Judge William Wetzel ruled that Johnson should be released instead under "strict and intensive supervision" (lifetime parole with an ankle bracelet). That decision came back to bite Judge Wetzel just a couple weeks later, when Johnson was arrested after subway cops spotted him in the act. It was his 30th arrest for a sex crime.
Parker's first conviction occurred almost three decades ago, when he burst into a medical office on Queens Boulevard and grabbed an unsuspecting physician's assistant. She fought back, but Parker, who is at least six-foot-three, overpowered her easily and dragged her by the hair into a nearby auto garage. There, he threw her on the floor and told her that he would kill her, wrapping a rope around her neck. He violently raped her, then left her there alone. The woman emerged from the garage injured but alive, with bruises, cuts, and bite wounds across her body.
Parker was captured later that night and eventually spent 14 years in prison for that crime. After being released on parole, he attempted to rape another woman in 2000 and went back to prison once more. Statistically, he is the kind of sex offender who is likely to rape again, but when his sentence was up last spring, there seemed to be little that the state could do but let him loose and hope for the best.
"I think we're all plowing new ground here," Judge William Wetzel said, acknowledging that there was still some confusion over the year-old process of civil commitments.
The only testimony came from a state psychologist, Erica Francis, who fidgeted as she detailed each of Parker's disturbing sexual acts. After that first harrowing rape, the next incident she described occurred while Parker was in prison in 1996, when he was disciplined for masturbating in his cell while yelling vulgarities and threats at a correction officer. Soon after he was released, he was arrested for attempting to rape an acquaintance and was thrown in prison again. "It's clear that he has a difficult time controlling himself," the psychologist testified.
Parker's lawyers didn't argue that point. They debated, instead, the state's contention that their client was crazy. As the hearing plodded on, it became clear that the transition from inmate to psychiatric patient can be a clumsy one. Most psychologists agree that mental illness is not a prerequisite for sexual violence; some rapists are perfectly sane, at least from a legal standpoint. So instead of having to prove insanity or illness to lock away sex offenders in psychiatric institutions, the law only requires that the offender have "mental abnormalities." It's a vague and unscientific term, and has the attorney general's office working to find mental disorders in men who may have never been diagnosed with any before. Such was the case for Parker, who was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, a common diagnosis for criminals, and "paraphilia not otherwise specified," a sexual-deviance disorder that is not actually listed in the psychiatrists' bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The diagnosing psychologist, however, had never actually met Parker. Like everything else in the treatment program, a psychological exam can only be administered to a willing patient. Parker had refused. So the psychologist made a clinical diagnosis based only on records of his criminal history and on a stint that Parker did at a psychiatric hospital when he was just 13 years old. Based on those documents, Parker was assigned a score indicating the possibility that he would "re-offend." An inmate's score goes up for having victimized men or strangers; apparently, men who attack women who are known to them are considered less dangerous. More points are added if the offender was under the age of 25 at the time of his first attack, or if he has other, nonsexual convictions on his rap sheet.