Case against Former Home for Orphans Goes to Jury

By Thomas J. Morgan
Providence Journal-Bulletin
July 20, 1999

Shawn Gill, 28, is suing the state, the former St. Aloysius Home, in Smithfield, and others, claiming he was sexually assaulted by social workers. The defense calls him a manipulative liar.


PROVIDENCE - Shawn Gill is either a talented and manipulative con artist who took $ 1,000 to falsely recant his testimony against the man who molested him and then promptly spent the money on cocaine, or is a powerless and twisted product of callous upbringing by the state who needs a thorough course of psychological treatment at public expense.

These differing views of Gill emerged yesterday as lawyers for him, the state and the former St. Aloysius Home, in Smithfield, summed up their cases before a jury in Superior Court.

In a ruling that was a partial victory for the state and St. Aloysius Home, Judge Thomas H. Needham decided he would not allow the jury to consider punitive damages, thus lessening the amount of money awarded to Gill if the jury decides in his favor.

Gill, 28, a convicted felon who was born to a prostitute serving a jail term at the time, has testified that he was molested repeatedly by state and private social workers during the years he was a ward of the state Q virtually all of his life until adulthood. He said he became a prostitute in his teenage years, and he blamed the state for failing to intervene in its supervisory role.

He is suing Robert McIntyre, a former priest, who was director of the Rhode Island Catholic Orphanage Asylum, doing business as St. Aloysius Home, in Greenville; the orphanage itself; the state Department of Children, Youth and Families; the State of Rhode Island, and several unnamed persons listed as John Does and Jane Does.

No sum of money is mentioned in the suit; compensating damages will be determined by the jury if it finds the state and orphanage at fault.

Gill appeared at the trial yesterday for the first time since his opening testimony in mid-June. He sat silently and without expression, his leg twitching nervously at frequent intervals. He turned often to glance at a clock at the back of the courtroom.

Timothy J. Conlon, Gill's lawyer, said his client is entitled to compensation for his treatment at the hands of the state Department for Children, Youth and Families.

"If he is the con artist they make him out to be, where is the tale of woe? If his goal was to tell you a tale, he would fill in every fact. He needed to go to a hospital; they sent him to an orphanage. Any parent would be shocked at that neglect. The state owned this kid. They were his parent most of his life."

Referring to Gill's assertion that he was sexually assaulted by workers at St. Aloysius at an early age, and that the state failed to investigate when Gill reported it, he said, "If you take away from a seven-year-old child the hope that his life doesn't have to be a series of anal rapes, you take away something serious."

He added, "Shawn has paid for what he did wrong Q he has been out at the ACI and out at the Training School .?.?. . Today it's the state facility in which he was placed whose behavior is on trial. I want justice. Make these defendants pay for the treatment he never received."

Gill has been jailed for car theft and other offenses, and once escaped from the Rhode Island Training School for Youth.

Linn F. Freedman, representing the state, had a different view of Gill.

"He sabotaged his own chances," Freedman said of Gill, who was placed in a score of state programs for troubled youth.

"Shawn testified that this isn't about money, but it is," Freedman said. "Shawn's argument is that he needs money to get treatment. He got $ 1,000 for recanting his testimony against Sunny (Arthur "Sunny" Fontaine, Gill's stepfather, who was convicted of molesting him). What did he do with the money? He bought cocaine. He got $ 10,000 from his mother's life insurance. What did he do? He bought a car, had a party and bought cocaine.

"This plaintiff and his experts are trying to second-guess, 20 years later, these dedicated social workers. His mother, Sunny, his mother's friends, Shawn himself Q hold them responsible."

William A. Poore, representing McIntyre and the orphanage, said Gill is a manipulative liar.

"It started early in this young man," Poore said of Gill's alleged prevarications, frequently shaking his finger at Gill as he made points, "and it continued through his testimony a few weeks ago." He said that although Gill contended he filed suit to win money to pay for psychological treatment, he has a lifelong history of avoiding contact with mental-health specialists.

"This fellow didn't just fall off the turnip truck," he said. "He manipulates people, and he manipulates evidence. If there is one thing we've learned about this fellow, he will not avail himself of counseling. It ain't going to happen."

Poore quoted from some of the records placed in evidence in a bid to show that Gill's behavior improved during his stay at St. Aloysius from 1979 to 1983, contrary to Gill's claims.

When Gill arrived at the home at the age of 7, the state having won custody from his mother, he had fantasies of being Wonder Woman, believed he was a girl and dressed like a girl, Poore said.

Yet a psychiatric witness engaged by Gill to analyze his record of behavior at the home came to a different conclusion, Poore said. Pointing at Gill, he said, "This is the fellow that Dr. (Steven) Feldman thought was radiant and happy" when he left the home.

"There is no doubt that he improved substantially in his years there," Poore said. Staring at Gill, he said, "He wasn't damaged. He wasn't assaulted. He wasn't abused. There is not one indication on the (trial) record that will confirm any vile comment this young man has made about the St. Aloysius staff.

"He didn't run away. He didn't commit crimes. He got over this Wonder Woman thing. He thrived at St. Aloysius."

The jury is expected to begin deliberations today.


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