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May 10, 2018 01:28 PM

Neil Graff Takes The Stand In CCHS Trial

Sioux Falls

The father of a developmentally disabled young man was emotional while testifying in the fourth day of a Sioux Falls family's civil trial over the use of prone restraints by Children's Care Hospital and School (now LifeScape). 

Previous Story: Use Of Prone Restraints On Developmentally Disabled Boy At Center Of Lawsuit

Neil and Debbie Graff say the excessive use of prone restraints on their son Ben by CCHS in 2010, left him with not only physical injuries, but lasting emotional damage. 

Neil Graff spent the morning talking about his close relationship with his son Ben and some of the horrors he says he witnessed over how Ben was treated by staff at CCHS. Graff told the jury about how well Ben had done through elementary and middle school in a traditional setting.  

Graff testified that Ben — who is non-verbal — loves to be around people and give them high-fives. He told the court that Ben has the intellectual capacity of a 3 to 4-year-old child.  

While on the stand, Graff choked up as he spoke about his love for his son, saying he was the heart and soul of their family. Some jurors wiped away tears when Graff spoke about how his wife Debbie was a dedicated caregiver for Ben. He also said that the couple is personally seeking nothing out of their lawsuit.

"This is not about Debbie and I; this is about Ben Graff and damages and hurt to Ben Graff," Neil said. "Ben doesn't need sympathy, we don't need sympathy. We just need justice."

As Ben hit puberty, Graff described in court, some behaviors that go along with his intellectual disability worsened and he didn't do as well at public high school. That's when the Graffs decided to place Ben at CCHS so he could better learn life skills, such as personal hygene.  

In testimony, the family described how they received phone calls from CCHS saying that Ben had to be restrained, but that he was doing okay. According to the Graffs, they never knew the extent of what was going on until former CCHS staff began revealing details about Ben's care. 

During his testimony, Neil Graff said that he once witnessed four staff members holding Ben down in a face-down position when he was leaving a meeting at the school. Graff says the staff immediately let Ben go when they saw him.

But Graff says there was no mat on the tile floor as required and that no nurse or medical staff was present. He also told the jury how CCHS had come to their home on two separate occasions to get Ben to school. 

In one instance, he says four staff members threw Ben into a face-down restraint on the floor of their garage, without a mat when he resisted leaving. 

Graff also described a second situation where they dragged Ben unwillingly to the bus stop to go to school. He says when Debbie asked staff to stop, they refused.

Graff says out of frustration, Ben grabbed a caretaker's hair and bit her. That day they were told by CCHS that Ben's care at the hospital and school was terminated. 

CCHS said in opening statements that the use of prone restraints on Ben Graff some 137 times was necessary because he was a danger to himself and others. 

Now 24, Ben Graff is 5'3" tall and weight 115 pounds.  

After he was asked to leave CCHS, Graff says Ben wouldn't leave their home for nearly a year and did not trust any adults other than his family. 

Graff began to cry in court as he said he blames himself for trusting CCHS to protect Ben.

"As it turns out they didn't protect him. They harmed him. I gave up my responsibility to protect him to them. I regret that every day of my life. I failed my son," Graff said. 

When the defense objected to that statement, Judge Larry Long told the jury to disregard Graff's outburst. 

A Wisconsin psychiatrist hired by the Graffs to examine Ben took the stand on Thursday afternoon.

Dr. Jeffrey Marcus testified that Ben suffered from "post-traumatic stress disorder" as a result of being restrained over and over again at Children's Care Hospital and School. Dr. Marcus told the jury that CCHS fell below the standard of monitoring his medical care and their documentation was sub-standard. 

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