Friday, March 9, 2012

Marchman Act Attorney Response Letter to Questions Posed by the Producers of A&E Intervention re: Donna Chavous On-Air Conduct

Let me begin by thanking you for your prompt response.

To answer your question directly: Yes, every statement Ms. Chavous told Courtney’s family about the Florida Marchman Act in the “Pre-Intervention” segment of Episode 10 was false.  More so, the information was not simply inaccurate or misleading – it was untruthful.  Specifically, when the family asked her if Courtney would be arrested if she did not agree to go to treatment on the day of the intervention.  In response, Ms. Chavous describes what she refers to as a “typical” scenario that would play out in such instances and spoke in such a manner as to suggest she has: (1) seen this happen before, and (2) had been personally involved in such situations in the past (see the dialogue verbatim below).  

The truth of the matter is that what Ms. Chavous describes to Courtney’s family could never have occurred either in her presence, or, in anyone’s presence under the Florida Marchman Act for that matter.  Neither she, nor any law enforcement officer would have the legal authority to allow such a thing to occur under the Florida Marchman Act – ever!

Understand, although the Florida Marchman Act is an “involuntary commitment” statute that allows for a court to "order" a substance impaired individual to enter and comply with treatment, only A COURT can do so and after determining its necessity based on strict rules of evidence:
1. “that there is a reasonable belief that the individual is substance abuse impaired and the individual:

2.  has lost the power of self-control with respect to substance use;

3. has inflicted or is likely to inflict physical harm on him/herself or others unless admitted;

4. the person's judgment is so impaired they are incapable of appreciating the need for care and making a rational decision regarding such care;

5. the person has refused to seek voluntary care.”

It is important to note that the addict is afforded at all times during these court proceedings all rights to “due process” afforded to them by the U.S. Constitution; also, they are afforded additional “Patient Rights” and protection, per Florida Statute and the Florida State Constitution.

Marchman Act courts are about the protection of the public and the addict from harm resulting from chronic substance abuse.  The Marchman Act is not about punishment and incarceration.  The Marchman Act “process” is about introducing consequences in an addict’s life for their decision to continue drug use where none currently exist.  Regardless, the impaired individual at all times is given the right to choose their future path with treatment and the court.  The entire process I will not belabor now, but have attached a guide I wrote for families that illustrates this process.

The following is a word-for-word account of Donna Chavous conversation with Courtney’s family in Episode 10: “The Pre-Intervention” scene:


Donna Chavous: “Because we are in Florida you have the Marchman Act.”

Donna Chavous: “Allows three family members to sign a petition to get her involuntarily put into rehab.”

Donna Chavous: “If she is not compliant she can be put in jail automatically.” [emphasis added].

Courtney’s Grandmother (scared / apprehensive): “If she says “no” tomorrow will she be arrested right then?”

Donna Chavous: “Yes, I will call the cops.”

Courtney’s Grandmother (scared / apprehensive): “I’ve never had the cops outside my home. Do you have the police outside in order to do this?”

Donna Chavous:“Yes.”

Courtney’s Grandmother (scared / apprehensive): “Only one?”

Donna Chavous: “Yes, usually only one unless she gets out of hand.”

Courtney’s Grandmother (scared)....


Let’s examine Donna Chavous statements:

Do three family members need to sign a FL Marchman Act Petition to file under the statute? – NO

If Courtney refused treatment on the day of the intervention would she ever be put in jail automatically under the Florida Marchman Act? – NEVER

Could Ms. Chavous simply call the cops and have Courtney arrested under the FL Marchman Act statute, if she refused treatment? – NEVER.

Is law enforcement ever used in Marchman Act Cases as described by Ms. Chavous without first having filed lawful petitions (which are reviewed and signed by a Circuit Court Judge)? - NEVER


Here is what is so personally offensive about Donna Chavous’ characterization of the Florida Marchman Act in this episode.  First, she acted intentionally; when she spoke to Courtney's grandmother she had knowledge that what she was saying to the family was untrue.  In fact, I am confident that Donna Chavous based upon her statements has never been involved in anything resembling what she purports as true.  Second, by misinforming the family, she violated ethical considerations that exist in the client / interventionist relationship. More so, by making such false claims clearly created unnecessary anxiety for an already traumatized family member(s).  Third, she broke the number one rule of Marchman Act work by threatening Courtney with the Marchman Act at the intervention; fully aware that no legal process was initiated with the court.  Yet, she then aggravates the situation and recklessly allows family members to unwittingly make false threats to Courtney that she would be arrested, if she did not comply with Donna Chavous commands and instruction.  Fourth, the intervention itself was initiated with full knowledge that it would fail, if Courtney refused treatment, because the foundation of the "intervention plan" was based upon a lie and the promise of specific results that could never be realized by Donna Chavous.  Accordingly, the intervention immediately escalated into what I can reasonable describe as chaos with an agitated Courtney fleeing the home within seconds of entry in an emotionally heightened and excited state.

It is essential for you to take the time to recognize the significance of the risk that Donna Chavous created for Courtney based upon her untruths.  Ask her the following question yourself:

Q: What does a IV heroin addict do to alleviate emotional / psychological stress?

A: Shoot more heroin.

Understanding this one realizes Donna Chavous created a situation whereby Courtney was going to go and shoot heroin as soon as possible (and, understanding addictive behavior compounded by confrontation and a high degree of stress) most likely as much heroin as she could get her hands on.  Courtney without a doubt was placed in a dangerous situation, where overdose was not only possible, but probable.  Ironically, the families greatest fear for Courtney - the risk of overdose  - was actually put in motion by the very same person the family believed was sent to save her from overdose.  Fifth, Donna Chavous recklessly instructed Courtney’s sister to go after Courtney after she fled the intervention site (whereby everyone else present - cameras included - followed in pursuit).  Ultimately, this placed the sister in a precarious and dangerous situation culminating with her hanging from the open door of a moving vehicle driven by Courtney's boyfriend (another active heroin addict), who speeds away, like Courtney, in an emotionally heightened state.

In conclusion, let me just express to you the personal offense Donna Chavous' outrageous behavior had upon me as an advocate of the rights of addicts and their families.  A&E Intervention's purported "professional" Donna Chavous instructed a global audience to believe that it is "acceptable and beneficial" to lock up addicts because of their addiction; and, doing so is also supported by both the legal and judicial systems.  Advocates (like myself) have battled for over a hundred years to bring acceptance to the modern public concept of a “disease model” for addiction. A&E Intervention (among others) have helped to increase such public acceptance and should be commended for whatever role they played in bringing this understanding to "the masses" that addiction is a bio-genetically predisposed disease (not unlike any other disease: heart disease, diabetes and/or cancer).  Yet, in an instant, Donna Chavous (whether you brand her actions unintentional, done out of ignorance, or, wantonly reckless) brought a television viewing audience of over 100,000,000 along for a wild ride where Courtney the self declared "Junkie Princess" is an immoral, societal blight, who is best dealt with by locking her away. And, more Florida, there are laws where such things can and do happen.  That was the lesson A&E Intervention gave the world on March 05, 2012.

That is what is so personally offensive to me in this entire ugly situation. The legislative intent of the Florida Marchman Act in the early 90’s was recognize the impact of addiction not only on society as a whole, but the addict themselves.  A law enacted to divert addicts out of jail cells and into treatment beds.  A law that would give enforcement in Florida a vehicle to assist a fellow citizen in medical crisis without having to charge them with a crime in order to save their life.  Institutionalizing addicts is regarded in our field as an ineffective, antiquated clinical failure and a dark, ugly shadow of our collective history.  Physical restraints and jail cells were a draconian, yet accepted practice well into the late 70's; an approach to treatment that has been proven to be fraught with unthinkable abuses (especially, in instances where substance abusers were minor children, the elderly or physically/mentally infirmed.  Donna Chavous  actions (although exciting for television viewers) turned back the clock and reinforced the diminishing belief that society does addicts a service by locking them away from normal people. Addicts are not criminals - they are simply sick. And, the Florida Marchman Act was written with this in mind by progressive minds.  Accordingly, the Florida Marchman Act is the most progressive “involuntary commitment” statute of any of the 36 states that have such laws on the books.  This law deserved better and the public deserved better because this law saves lives.

Thank you for taking the time to listen. Please recognize that I bear no ill will toward A&E or any of the producers of this show.  This is simply a subject that I am quite passionate about based on my own personal experiences as a lawyer.  If something like this were going on under my own roof, I would want it brought to my attention as well.


Raymond G. Ferrero III, J.D.
Executive Director of Intramural Health Affairs

"I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection."
           -- Leonardo da Vinci

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