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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Disabled Son of Politician Abused, Parents Say

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - A New York state assemblyman says in federal court that his mentally disabled son endured "sadistic" abuse from the caretaker at a group home.

Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, D-Nassau, has signed laws strengthening penalties against those who abuse the disabled, notably through his co-sponsorship and signing of New York Mental Hygiene Law Article 33, or Jonathan's Law.

The statute allows parents and guardians of disabled people to access records related to abuse allegations at government facilities.

According to the complaint, his advocacy stems from the developmental disabilities of his son, Ricky, who needed to be institutionalized since the age of 5.

"Though fifty-four years old, Ricky lives the life of a child," the complaint states. "He relies upon the care of others to take care of him. He can smile and love. But Ricky cannot speak or cry. And while in the care of AHRC Nassau, a private organization serving the disabled and regulated by New York State, Ricky was himself subjected to physical and emotional abuse, and a basic deprivation of his own humanity, by AHRC employee Dwayne Edwards."

AHRC's investigation into the abuse allegations in April 2009 found that Edwards had been "hitting, plucking, jerking and cursing at Eric 'Ricky' Weisenberg," according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, Edwards "cruelly and repeatedly struck Ricky just to see him flinch, jump or cry out," and mocked him as a "f***ing Jew" and the "Gurgitator."

"Mr. Edwards's sadistic and inhumane treatment of Ricky violates federal and state law designed to protect the disabled from abuse and discrimination," the complaint states.

The 54-year-old, who "suffers from a profound range of mental retardation," sued through his parents.

They seek punitive damages from Edwards and the Nassau County Chapter of the New York State Association for Retarded Children, alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act, Medicaid Act, New York State Human Rights Law, assault, battery and other charges.

In a joint statement, the parents said: "Ricky loves us with a full and unconditional heart. The thought of someone hurting him is almost unspeakably painful to us. We will continue to speak out on his behalf until we achieve justice in his case. And we will continue to speak out on behalf of all those who cannot speak for themselves."

Their lawyer Ilann Maazel of Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady LLC called the case "just part of an epidemic of abuse in New York state."

"If it can happen to the son of a New York assemblyman and one of the leading advocates for disability rights, it can happen to anyone," Maazel said.

AHRC has distanced itself from the allegations.

"We are disappointed that our longtime friend would choose to name us in a lawsuit of this nature," the organization said in a statement. "Over the past three and a half years since the conclusion of this investigation, all of Mr. Weisenberg's actions demonstrated his satisfaction with AHRC's actions."

Such actions included Weisenberg hosting a luncheon in which he encouraged other parents to "follow his lead" and support the organization financially, AHRC says.

The politician continued to speak regularly at its public events, the organization claims.

"AHRC fully supports Governor Cuomo's pending legislation that would create a state registry to prevent the re-hiring of abusive workers," its statement continues. "We share Mr. Weisenberg's frustration and hope that this registry will keep this vulnerable population safe from abuse."

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