Something bad happened to Louie Berman Jr. inside the Woodbine Developmental Center.
The black eyes and heavy bruising his father found when he visited him in December are evidence of that.
But Louie can’t explain how he got those injuries.
The 21-year-old autistic man does not speak.
His father, Lou Berman Sr., has long been his advocate, even starting “Louie’s Voice” in 2012, to help others and raise autism awareness.
Now Berman is hoping to find someone else to speak up for Louie.
He is offering a $10,000 reward for information about who knows what happened to his son.
“I wish I could compel somebody somewhere at one of these agencies to have the decency to come forward,” Berman told BreakingAC. “Not just for Louie but anyone anywhere else with no one to come to their defense.”
Berman has shared the pictures of his son’s injuries publicly, hoping to inspire someone to come forward.
In them, Louie’s eyes are both blackened, the white of one eye appearing blood red.
The dark bruises on Louie’s inner thighs and buttocks are especially troubling to his father, who had a sexual assault test administered when he was able to get him to the hospital.
“It’s every parent’s nightmare because you just don’t know,” he said. “You can draw conclusions from the bruising.”
BreakingAC reached out to Woodbine for comment.
A spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, which oversees the facility, responded instead.
“The department cannot comment on specific cases, but investigates all allegations of wrongdoing,” Tom Hester wrote. “The health and safety of the people under our care is always a top priority.”
An eye on legislation
Many are surprised there are no cameras inside that might help find out what happened, Berman said.
Assemblywoman Joann Downey is looking to change that.
A bill she sponsored would put surveillance cameras in group homes as long as all inside consent. Cameras in common areas would be paid for by the facility, while patients requesting them in private rooms would paid themselves.
There will be no audio recorded as part of a compromise. The video would have to be kept for 90 days.
The bill is named in honor of Billy Cray, who was found dead Aug. 27, 2017, on the floor of his closet inside a Somers Point facility.
His mother, Martha Cray, already was a high-profile advocate fighting against alleged abuses inside these homes when Billy died.
Last year, she and several others testified before an Assembly panel in support of the bill.
Lou Berman Sr. was among them.
It was before the Woodbine incident, but Berman already had stories of issues at other homes.
Downey followed up with those who spoke.
“Each story was more horrific than the other,” she told BreakingAC.
“The bottom line is, people can say this just might be what they think happened,” she said. “But you don’t have all these people complaining and not think there’s a problem.”
Trouble with pandemic
Louie had been in Woodbine since July, with his father unable to visit due to COVID-19.
He continued trying to find ways to see Louie that would still take the proper pandemic precautions.
“I’m all that kid has and they took me away from him,” Berman said of his son being unable to understand why his father suddenly wasn’t around.
“They wouldn’t let me see him, not even behind glass just to let him know, ‘Hey, I didn’t go away,’” Berman said. “They have 1,100 employees come and go, and it’s no problem. But me as a parent, somehow I’m an exponentially higher risk.”
The first call about an issue came around Halloween. Louie was in the hospital after suffering a seizure while being restrained.
Berman said his son never had seizures.
The doctor at the hospital asked what Louie was doing before the seizure. Since he wasn’t there, Berman called Woodbine and asked supervisor Vickie McRae what she could tell the doctor.
But he said McRae refused to give any information and told him to call social services.
“She would not let me or the doctor talk to anyone,” he said.
McRae did not return a call seeking comment.
No follow-up investigation came, Berman said.
Then he got a call Dec. 10, that staff had noticed some bruising and were investigating.
Story continues after photos.
‘This was a beating…’
Having dealt with his son’s behavioral issues, Berman understood that restraining Louie was sometimes necessary.
But when he finally got to see his son two days later, it wasn’t a few bumps and bruises as he expected.
“This was clearly a beating,” Berman said.
“I just lost it,” he admitted. “I was crying. I was screaming. I was hollering.”
Berman wanted to take his son home then, but was told there were some issues first, including medication that would be coming Monday.
The father was worried about leaving his son again.
“All eyes are going to be on him,” he said a worker told him. “He’ll be safe here until Monday.”
The young man he brought home was different than the one he dropped off, he said.
Louie was so overly medicated he “was drooling all over the place” and seemed inebriated from the medications, Berman said.
He also was fearful.
More than two months later, Berman sees the old Louie returning.
He’s happy and healthy, his father said.
That doesn’t mean Berman has forgotten.
“Don’t think I’m letting this go,” he said in a YouTube video posted last week. “You are not going to do what you did to my boy.”
While Berman hopes to get attention to issues within these facilities, he said he will not be sending his son back to one.
Louie will be transferred to an apartment where his father can manage his care.
And his father will continue to search for the truth.
“God bless those who can name their abuser,” Berman said, “because my son can’t, and neither can thousands of other kids, adults and elderly people.”