NEW BEDFORD — Advocates for the developmentally disabled say law enforcement authorities could have done more to prevent the repeated gang rapes of a mentally handicapped man.
Suspect Buddy E. Smith, 22, of Fall River, as well as an uncle of Mr. Smith and several friends who are still at large, stalked, kidnapped and raped the mentally retarded man more than a dozen times from 2004 to 2007, prosecutors say. Mr. Smith and his friends also engaged in a campaign of threats and intimidation to keep the Tiverton, R.I., man from reporting the crimes, prosecutors said.
"This is the worst alleged case of sustained abuse of a person with mental retardation in New England since the Raynham 'House of Horrors' was exposed more than 10 years ago," said Colleen Lutkevich, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates for the Retarded.
COFAR officials have been working with the victim's relatives since they reached out to the organization last summer. The group has been monitoring the ongoing court proceedings against Mr. Smith, and has been critical of how law enforcement initially handled the case.
COFAR officials claim the Fall River Police Department refused to take a report when the victim's family approached them in January 2006 because the victim was developmentally disabled.
A spokesman for Fall River police could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
COFAR officials also say former Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. demanded the victim's family pay for a forensic psychiatrist to examine the victim on two occasions on the subject of consent and to determine his degree of mental retardation.
Contacted by telephone Tuesday, Mr. Walsh said he did not remember the specific case, but said it was not his office's practice to demand victims' families pay for their own expert psychiatric witnesses.
"I can't remember ever requiring a family to get expert witnesses for us," Mr. Walsh said. "People are frequently frustrated with delays in the court system. I hope the family's frustrations are alleviated when the case pans out in court."
Tuesday, a Superior Court judge temporarily detained Mr. Smith until a bail revocation hearing May 21. He had been free on $1,000 bail since June 2006, when he was indicted on charges of rape, indecent assault and battery on a retarded person and witness intimidation. He is scheduled to stand trial on those charges July 21.
Mr. Smith's uncle, William Senay, 52, of Fall River, also was arrested in connection with the alleged sexual assaults. Mr. Senay is charged with rape and indecent assault and battery on a retarded person, and also is scheduled to go to trial July 21.
None of the other alleged co-conspirators have been identified or arrested.
The alleged abuse reportedly began shortly after the victim met Mr. Smith through a Fall River friend of the victim in spring 2004. Later that year, Mr. Smith allegedly took the victim to a church parking lot in Fall River, where he and several other young men sexually assaulted him.
The gang rapes continued throughout 2005, according to the victim's relatives, who said they began noticing changes in his behavior.
On Jan. 6, 2006, Mr. Smith allegedly went to the victim's house in Tiverton, R.I. The victim's mother answered the door and became suspicious. After speaking with the victim, the family went to the Police Department the following day.
The victim also was taken to Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, where a social worker there assessed him as having been raped, relatives said.
The alleged sexual assaults were accompanied by repeated instances of stalking and harassment, prosecutors said.
Throughout the summer of 2006, the victim's family said, Mr. Smith and his friends staked out their home and often drove by the house in different vehicles. The family alleges the suspects told the victim they would kill him and his mother if he did not leave the house.
The stalking continued through 2007, as Mr. Smith and friends allegedly followed the victim and contacted him using a disabled girl's cell phone, the victim's relatives said.
The alleged stalking continued unabated until last month, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors allege that on March 20, Mr. Smith traveled to a remote residence on the Connecticut-Rhode Island border where the victim, now 25, had been staying. A witness later told police in Foster, R.I., she saw Mr. Smith peering into the window.
Foster police have since obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. Smith, prosecutors said.
The alleged stalking on March 20 occurred three months after the last sexual assault is said to have taken place, prosecutors said.
Mr. Smith is suspected of stalking the victim at a library in Middletown, R.I., in December. Later that day, Mr. Smith allegedly lured the victim from his home and gang raped him with his friends, prosecutors said.
The developmentally disabled man had been moved several times because Mr. Smith and his friends had been stalking him, prosecutors said. Mr. Smith had been ordered by the court to stay away from the victim.
"He poses an immediate threat to the victim," said Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne. "This threat needs to be addressed today."
Defense lawyer Kenneth D. van Colen requested the bail revocation hearing to be rescheduled to May 21 to allow him time to prepare. Mr. van Colen also indicated he would have an alibi witness who will say Mr. Smith was with him at the time of the alleged stalking.
In addition to the alleged sexual assaults, Mr. Smith is accused of stalking the victim on several occasions, then threatening his relatives when they reported the matter to police.
"It's been horrible, just a nightmare," said an aunt of the victim. "They've just stalked him."
Charges have not been brought against Mr. Smith for the alleged Middletown rape, said Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter, who noted he had spoken with the investigating officer there.
"I've been following this matter very closely," said Mr. Sutter, adding he did not understand recent criticisms from COFAR that he also had shown little effort to prosecute the case.
"I totally disagree with that," Mr. Sutter said. "We have spent a tremendous amount of effort on this case. I personally met with the victim's family for over an hour on a Sunday, and I spoke with them this past Friday."
COFAR President David J. Hart said he found "disturbing" not only the allegations of repeated sexual assault of a developmentally disabled person, but the manner in which the case was prosecuted.
COFAR officials said the case evoked memories of the 1996 "House of Horrors" case in which two mentally challenged men who were held captive in a Raynham house were tortured with hot pliers, chained to gas heaters and beaten with sticks.
"What really puts fear into our hearts has been the unusual determination and success of this alleged rapist and stalker to continue the abuse, and to terrorize other family members, and the inability, up until today, of the criminal justice system to keep pace with the level of threat," Mr. Hart said.