PORTLAND — The state is failing to live up to a federal court agreement guaranteeing the rights of the mentally retarded in Maine, a class-action lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, accuses the state of violating the Pineland consent decree. The 13-year-old court agreement settled a 1975 suit protesting living conditions at Pineland, the state’s largest residential center for the mentally retarded.
The new lawsuit alleges that Pineland residents are not being adequately protected from abuse by other residents and are not being helped to leave the center and live more independently.
It alleges, for instance, that Pamela Perro, a profoundly retarded woman who was a resident of Pineland last year, “suffered frequent injury at the hands of other residents and from unknown causes.”
“All such injuries were the result of inadequate supervision,” the suit alleges.
Nine mentally retarded people are named in the suit, which was filed on behalf of all residents at Pineland. The Consumer Advisory Board, a group of citizens appointed by the state mental health commissioner to serve as a watchdog over the Pineland consent decree, filed the suit.
Named as defendants are Robert Glover, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation; Roger Deshaies, director of the Bureau of Mental Retardation; and Donald Hartley, superintendent of Pineland.
Melvin “Mickey” Boutilier, chairman of the advisory board, said the suit was not directed solely at Pineland, but also is aimed at inadequate care for the mentally retarded throughout the state.
“Nothing is terrible, nothing is earth-shattering,” he said. “But it’s time they kept their promise because it’s affecting the lives of mentally retarded persons all over the state.”
Glover said the suit was not a surprise. Advocates for the mentally retarded had warned they planned to file the suit for about two years.
Glover said the department supports the “spirit of the consent decree,” a plan to reduce institutional care for the mentally retarded and replace it with community programs that would enable them to live in group homes or in their own apartments.
But Glover said the department will fight the suit because it claims it is no longer legally bound by the decree. U.S. District Judge Edward T. Gignoux found in 1983 that the state had complied with the agreement and discharged it from court jurisdiction.
Assistant Attorney General Richard Bergeron said he plans to file a motion asking a judge to dismiss the case.
But Neville Woodruff, an attorney for the plaintiffs, contends the understanding in 1983 was that the decree would remain in effect forever.
Layoffs at Pineland have jeopardized care for the institution’s 260 residents, said Carroll “Skip” Macgowan, a patient advocate.