“With each additional day of silence, I truly recognize what is potentially the greatest threat posed by A&E Network to the treatment and recovery community - their indifference.”
- Raymond G. Ferrero III, Esq.
- Raymond G. Ferrero III, Esq.
A&E Intervention Season 11 is coming to a close, but not without controversy. Episode 10 - "Courtney," which aired on March 05, 2012, resulted in a flood of harsh criticism against the show over the intervention of 20 year old heroin addict Courtney (the self-identified "junkie princess") by interventionist Donna Chavous of Intervention911. Donna Chavous' heavy handed tactics, unprofessional language and threats of incarceration against Courtney were described in posts on A&E’s website by viewers as "bullying tactics" and "lies" from what one poster 'Marisa' called a "power hungry bully." Additional comments warned A&E to: "get rid of her before she gets someone killed." The message was clear. A&E viewers were outraged at the overall direction of their beloved ‘Intervention’ with additions to the cast like Donna Chavous – and, they were going to be heard.
Lone bloggers on the outskirts of the web were not the only ones to take notice of A&E Intervention’s alarming new direction, however. On March 06, 2012, the day after Episode 10 aired, the Huffington Post published an article entitled: 'Intervention' Gets Dangerous As Courtney Lashes Out, Tries To Escape, which detailed Courtney’s failed intervention, including the chaotic conclusion where the audience watches as one of her family hangs from the open door of a truck driven by Courtney’s heroin addict boyfriend with “Courtney prodding [him] to go faster” from inside as she struggles to detach anyone trying to prevent her escape.
I watched Episode 10 online, days after it first aired, from my Florida based law firm: Addiction Recovery Legal Services. I sat slack-jawed in my chair watching Courtney’s botched intervention play out and becoming incensed by the outrageous, unprofessional and unethical behavior of Dona Chavous. Specifically, and most troubling, false threats she made to both Courtney and her family about the power she possessed under a Florida law called the Marchman Act to have Courtney arrested for refusing treatment. The Florida Marchman Act has been my personal passion and the foundation of my 17 year legal career. I am a former member of Florida’s Drug Policy Advisory Committee under Governor Charlie Crist; a legal adviser to the 2010 Florida Marchman Act legislative redraft; and, the actual lawyer who, in 2009, provided a Florida Marchman Act training to “Intervention A-Lister” Ken Seely’s ‘Intervention911’ team (Donna Chavous’ current employer). Accordingly, what I witnessed during Episode 10 concerned me gravely personally and for the recovery and treatment community as a whole.
As an active professional within Florida’s treatment and recovery community, I say without pause that Donna Chavous’ handling of Courtney’s intervention during Episode 10 was wantonly reckless, extremely dangerous and undoubtedly unethical. Specifically, in the "pre-intervention" scene where she explains to Courtney’s family, her power under Florida’s Marchman Act law to summon police at will and have Courtney arrested, if she refused treatment on the day of the intervention - a bold faced lie. The Florida Marchman Act is an “involuntary commitment” statute to compel addicts into detox and treatment, but it is also a legal “process” that could never grant Donna Chavous such power. The Florida Marchman Act is not a legal sword to punish addicts with incarceration for refusing care. Instead, the Florida Marchman Act is a legal shield to protect addicts from the criminal justice system and incarceration; but, most importantly, from ending up in the morgue. My outrage at the misinformation this woman spewed on national television, I first personally vetted on the A&E Intervention discussion board. Hours later, I directed a more formal email to the show producers, which began a personal email exchange with the executive producers of A&E Intervention.
Initially, our exchange was hopeful, and convinced me (at least temporarily), that the executive producers of the show were in fact “very concerned,” over Donna Chavous’ conduct and ready to protect the “integrity of the interventions [they] conduct.” Specific promise was made to me that they would personally investigate: “Ms. Chavous’…overall conduct with appropriate clinical professionals..,” and told me that they would be “grateful, if I could provide them with the specific inaccuracies in any language during the episode, concerning the [Florida] Marchman Act.” They asked me to further detail any “specific inaccuracies Ms. Chavous articulated” during Episode 10. The correspondence very quickly devolved, however, into clear posturing by A&E to distance the entertainment and production aspect of the show from what they described to be “a strict division on ‘Intervention’ between the television professionals and the clinical professionals.” Despite this, I ultimately did what they asked and provided them with a detailed transcription of the specific abuses that I witnessed aired on the show. It was then, that our seemingly fluid exchange turned to corporate stonewalling and abrupt silence. My request concerning the specific actions A&E Intervention intended to take to address Donna Chavous conduct and set the record straight were ignored. More troubling, A&E Intervention quickly went about systematically “sanitizing” all trace of my original discussion board venting under the title “Marchman Act Attorney.” Only the posts of equally outraged audience members, who noticed A&E’s removal of my earlier comments, remain:
"Where's the Marchman Attorney's messages? What happened to the messages from the Florida Attorney about the Marchman Act? Did someone from A &E take them down because he was right &; Donna lied!"
"I AGREE!!!...Honey, I just posted about the same thing. Donna Chavous is not an appropriate interventionist. Screaming after her, "I'm shutting down all your tricks girl! You're going to jail!!" I HATE this woman and she needs to find a new field of work. She's hurting these already sensitive and confused, scared addicts."
"[Re: Where's the Marchman Attorney's messages? Posted By: shined33] What messages are you referring to? I never saw [them]."
My outrage with Donna Chavous has been compounded by the subsequent inaction of A&E, whom I now hold equally accountable to the treatment and recovery community. A&E Intervention could easily have remedied their predicament by: (1) suspending Donna Chavous from further interventions until the allegations of her misconduct were fully investigated; (2) pulling all existing (or, future airings) of episodes she appears in until the allegations of her misconduct were fully investigated; and (3) publicly remedy her lie by spending equal air time rehabilitating audience perception of the Florida Marchman Act as was spent showcasing Donna Chavous misrepresentation of the law. I am sure the Reverend Hal S. Marchman; if alive today, would have found this a reasonable approach to remedy such a lie. I’m not so sure the lawyers for Hal S. Marchman’s current Estate would be so forgiving should they learn A&E had not only turned a blind eye (and ear) to such deception, but profited from it as well.
Considering the evidence at hand, A&E Intervention critics like Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe prove to be shockingly insightful: “[A&E Intervention] makes prime-time sport of vulnerable, desperate people and their spiral to the bottom.” Has the A&E Network not struck Hollywood pay dirt with its Emmy Award winning show? Have they not generated nearly unlimited sources of potential advertising revenue showcasing addicts, who Mr. Gilbert quite accurately described as being on the countdown to self-destruction? Another TV critic, Melanie McFarland, of Seattle believes that A&E Intervention blurs the line between “compelling depictions and exploitation with every episode following addicts at the lowest coils in his or her downward spiral and only confronting the person in the very last quarter of the show whereby the viewer is not left to contemplate the subject's healing process as deeply as how messed up that person is.” How unrealistic or non-objective is McFarland’s assessment of the show’s formula, which she accurately describes to be “25 percent recovery, 75 percent chaos.”
I respectfully submit to the treatment and recovery community that we all need to wake up and simply act. In regard to Donna Chavous of Intervention911, as treatment providers we have an ethical and legal duty to report unethical conduct by a licensed professional within our field, regardless of celebrity or association. All treatment providers need to be held to the same exacting standard of care, whether that care is being performed at a treatment center for Hollywood’s most affluent, or, on the front line of any indigent based facility in any city across this nation. Our duty is equal; as is our accountability. In regard to A&E Intervention, we must recognize how vital it is that we police the influence we allow an entertainment giant like A&E to have over the treatment industry and recovery community. We must hold A&E accountable for every single cent they profit on every single second of content produced on the back of every single addict like Courtney. Why? A&E Network produces television content in the name of entertainment. How can we know A&E Network holds entertainment value over their concern for addicts? In the face of credible allegations of abuse by an employee, A&E sits silent. As a community we must judge such silence unacceptable. More so, we must judge A&E’s censorship of valid corporate criticism equally unacceptable. Never forget, A&E entered the treatment profession and recovery community for no other reason than to create entertainment content for profit. In fact, A&E transformed its entire network on a long shot that they could also transform treatment and recovery into television gold. Don’t take my word for it, just a year ago A&E programming Vice President, Rob Sharenow, stated in the article ‘How A&E Got Rich Off of Recovery’ by Joe Lynch: “Intervention was a critical turning point for us…it signaled a big change in the network's entire approach to programming... interventions are quite dramatic…they come with a built-in climax, which makes for powerful TV.”
In conclusion, thirty-nine (39) days have passed since A&E was placed on notice of Donna Chavous abuse of Courtney and her family. Yet, Donna Chavous remains an untarnished member of the A&E “Intervention Team” without repercussion; without accountability and without public or, private apology. I humbly call on every member of our community to let A&E hear your voice by signing the petition at www.marchmanactblog.com. Tell A&E and Donna Chavous: “(1) I publicly hold you accountable for your conduct; and (2) I demand independent clinical oversight of your entertainment product from today forward.” This has never before been more important for our community than right now. Especially, with A&E’s plan for even greater influence over our community with the ‘Intervention’ spin-off: 'The Recovery Project' scheduled to air this year with celebrity endorsement by Whoopi Goldberg, Russell Simmons, Benjamin Bratt and Christopher Lawford (among others). Peter Hamilton Consultants (who develop, produce and market television content for other network giants like CBS, Discovery, AETN, National Geographic and NBC) has referred to ‘Intervention’ as a revenue “Sweet-Spot” for the A&E Network. ‘The Recovery Project' is clearly intended to replicate A&E’s success with ‘Intervention’ by selling a similar theme to the estimated 100 million U.S. home the show will reach weekly (thanks in total to A&E's pre-existing “Sweet-Spot”). What does A&E say about their new endeavor? According to A&E Network:
“[The Recovery Project]…was inspired by our work on the ‘Intervention’ series and in the community…to break the stigma of addiction...[A&E] celebrates people in recovery and pays tribute to those who support them: treatment providers, family and friends.”
Let that sink in for a moment, while thinking about Episode 10…About Courtney…About Donna Chavous…About A&E Network. Absolutely no reconciliation can exist between A&E’s lofty claim above to “pay tribute to every individual in recovery, provider or family member” while they condone the abuse and exploitation of any single addict – just like Courtney - and then silence public concern over such abuses.
For my part, I know which way the wind blows and will continue to see how many more days will tick past before A&E responds and attempts to regain any semblance of credibility in my eyes, but more so in the watchful eyes of the treatment and recovery community itself. I hope for immediate response and action by A&E, although I expect none. As A&E has no incentive to change unless we demand that they change!
With each additional day of silence, I truly am beginning to recognize what is potentially the greatest threat posed by A&E Network to the treatment industry and recovery community - their indifference. I will continue to do my part to share Courtney’s story. I hope this "Open Letter" will result in A&E eventually learning that every addict is significant; and, a person’s significance is not somehow devalued, simply because you happen to be standing at the door selling tickets to the show.
Please sign our petition and share Courtney’s story with a friend today.
Raymond G. Ferrero III, Esq.