Suit Alleges Civil Rights Violations in NY ECT Case


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Attorneys for Paul Henri Thomas, the New York man currently facing forced electroshock treatments, today filed a complaint in US District Court, Eastern District, in Central Islip, New York charging that Thomas' First Amendment rights have been continually violated.

The complaint asks for a declaratory judgement that this is a violation of his rights, an injunction against officials to stop limitations against his ability to write and exchange information as well as an injunction against supervised visitation. The complaint also asks for compensatory and punitive monetary damages.

A source close to the case said that officials at Pilgrim Psychiatric Center are acting "with retaliation in mind" by blocking 49-year-old Thomas from freely speaking with supporters and friends. Pilgrim officials also want to assess his competency and review everything he writes, deciding whether or not he is capable of releasing information to the public and media.

"He's not allowed to sign anything," said the source. "He's been trying to get his message out publicly, so they're saying he isn't competent to make any decisions. It's been very oppressive."

All visits with Thomas are now fully supervised, preventing him from having private visits or from giving any information about what he's experiencing inside Pilgrim. The one-on-one supervision is never used, the source said, except in a context of dangerousness.

"They continually challenge the visitors and get in their faces,"the source added. "This places severe limits on his right to speak out as well as his right to associate with others who share his views and might help. They want to stop any further information from getting out because officials from OMH (Office of Mental Health) are screwing up."

"It's a classic retaliation," the source said, adding that OMH officials have been receiving inquiries from senators and state assemblymen.

"They don't want to take the heat for anything, and they're doing anything to break Paul's will and give him the shock treatments. It's a classic First Amendment violation and retaliation."

The complaint names Pilgrim Executive Director Alan Weinstock, Clinical Director Pamela Weinberg, Associate Medical Director Bob Kalani, and Andre Azemar, treating psychiatrist.

Paul Henri Thomas, an American citizen originally from Haiti, has received up to 60 shocks over the past two years.

Extensive media coverage and outraged rights activists have brought heavy pressure on New York's Office of Mental Health officials. Many have questioned officials' claims that Thomas was competent enough to sign consent forms, yet incompetent the moment he began to refuse the controversial treatments.

An international campaign on the Internet has brought more attention to this case.

For the past two weeks, hearings have been held in the New York State Supreme Court in front of Justice W. Bromley Hall to determine whether Thomas has the competency to say no to electroshock treatments. A temporary restraining order currently prohibits the hospital from performing any treatments. This restraining order is being reviewed by four justices of the appellate division who will decide whether or not to extend the stay until the end of the state Supreme Court proceedings.

For ideas on contacting New York elected officials, go to

Updated March 23, 2001 by NARPA