The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is outraged that the Maryland prosecutor’s office has dropped all charges against a couple that imprisoned their autistic sons in a filthy basement with no furniture or electricity. When the prosecutor’s office declined to pursue charges, they joined a pattern of treating violence against people with disabilities as acceptable and excusable rather than worthy of zealous prosecution and condemnation. We are appalled that even in a case of such severe abuse, the lives of people with disabilities continue to be deemed less valuable than those of people without disabilities.
In July 2014, police in Montgomery County, Maryland discovered 22-year-old autistic twin men locked in an empty basement room that reeked of urine. The only light in the room did not work. The door was secured with a deadbolt from the outside. The one small window was not large enough for them to crawl through in case of emergency. Their parents, John and Janice Land, were charged with abusing vulnerable adults and false imprisonment. On December 23, 2014, however, Montgomery County prosecutors announced that charges have been dropped. Since removal from the home, the autistic men have been placed in a residential facility. Their parents, who abused them, have visitation rights.
We are disappointed that the prosecutor’s office has chosen to drop charges despite initially describing the abuse as deplorable and unacceptable. This decision reinforces the dangerous belief that it is simply not abuse or neglect if the people to whom it happens are disabled. Each year we mourn the deaths of dozens of disabled people every year whose family members and caregivers murder them or cause their deaths through neglect, often after prolonged abuse or neglect. These young men may have avoided becoming the next names on the list we publish annually, but this outcome is not justice.
We are profoundly disturbed by comments from both the prosecutor’s office and the Lands’ attorney portraying the Lands’ severe neglect as merely a result of the stress of caring for people with disabilities. These comments mirror the rhetoric used every time a family member is accused of harming a disabled relative. Far from loving parents who tried as hard as they could to care for their sons, the Lands betrayed the trust that their sons should have been able to place in them, and now, the prosecutors that should pursue justice on their behalf have refused to do so.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network always urges vigorous prosecution in cases of abuse and murder of disabled people, in accordance with the standard of justice sought for abuse and murder victims without disabilities. For as long as there is a double standard of justice for people with and without disabilities, those currently abusing their relatives with disabilities will be further emboldened with the guarantee of impunity for their actions. Our lives must be treated as equal to others in our society – equally deserving of protection, basic human rights, and vindication where those rights are violated. The Land twins deserve nothing less.