Patients Tasered at Sonoma Developmental Center


Respect for the dignity and rights of people with disabilities is a battle that is never won “Once and for All.” It is only eternal vigilance that keeps the monsters at bay. Digby at Hullabaloo links to a story at California Watch about a staff member accused of using a Taser as a cattle prod on patients with disabilities at the Sonoma Developmental Center. In 1953 my parents worked at what was then called the Sonoma State Home for the Feebleminded. My sister and I had our day care with the wife of the head of security there, on the grounds. (The name has changed to Sonoma State Hospital and now to Sonoma Developmental Center, but it is still the same Institution.) Even then the place had a troubled past: the human eugenics experiments there in the 1930’s, a breakout of juvenile psychopaths that left a farmer dead and his wife hospitalized, chronic overcrowding/understaffing, the routine harvesting of deceased patient’s brains for study. Memories of that time have stayed with me for 60 years; I finally had to write a novel (Passage of the Kissing People) about them to gain closure. Staff then fought to change the State Home to a State Hospital to force increased medical treatment and an emphasis on moving patients back into the community. The forces of resistance rested in part on the fact that high-functioning patients were the captive work force to maintain the pig farm/dairy herd/chicken ranch/orchards/truck gardens/cannery/shoe factory and all the other pieces that made the Home its own city. Raising enough food to feed themselves and sell over $200,000 worth of food kept the costs down. To move those people back out into real life would raise costs, and so would additional staff and medications. Such concerns echo today as budget cuts have brought the Center to staff cut-backs and budget stress now. It is in conditions like these that patient safety is placed in the balance. Now with the value of the land so high, any excuse to shut down the facility would provoke intense pressure to sell. The fact that this problem arises every generation is not the reason to close down the facility. Its a reminder that we can’t take our eyes off the ball. Those who would shutter the Center have no plan to serve the patients they would turn out on the streets.

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