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Sunday, January 14, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Autistic man wins suit against doctor

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TACOMA - A Pierce County jury has awarded $2.1 million to the family of an autistic man who sued his discredited neuropsychiatrist over treatment, saying the now-dead doctor tried to erase part of their son's brain and turn him into a trained killer.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Stephen Drummond, 30, of Spokane. He was not present when the verdict was announced Friday, but his mother, Jeanie Drummond, called it "very fair and reasonable."

"There's no amount of money that can make up for his losses," she said.

The attorney representing the estate of Gig Harbor neuropsychiatrist Donald Dudley, who died in October, declined comment.

Dudley's license to practice medicine was suspended in 1993 after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In one episode cited in the suspension, Bellevue police found Dudley with an arsenal of guns in a hotel room where he was treating a suicidal 15-year-old boy. The boy reportedly threatened a clerk with a .44-caliber pistol.

Friday's award is among the largest ever awarded by a jury for psychotherapy negligence.

"This record verdict demonstrates again that the legal system will enforce the law against incompetent and dangerous psychotherapists," said Christopher Barden, a Salt Lake City psychologist and attorney who worked on the case.

Drummond's parents filed the lawsuit in 1998, contending that Dudley used drugs and hypnotic suggestion in an effort to recruit and train killers from among his patients. The complaint sought damages for Stephen Drummond, claiming that he will never be able to work or live on his own because of Dudley's negligence.

Defense attorneys said Drummond's decline was a normal part of his autism, a condition that results in an internal focus with little awareness of external reality, and had nothing to do with Dudley.

Jurors deliberated almost two days after the four-week trial.

"We agreed that some of what (Dudley) did was harmful," said juror Joan Lane of Tacoma. "But we also agreed it was something (Stephen Drummond) was born with."

Dudley treated Drummond for a seizure disorder with eight sessions in 1989, 13 in 1990, one in 1991 and six in 1992.

The family attorneys said the drugs Dudley prescribed made Drummond psychotic and delusional, symptoms not usually associated with autism.

In October 1990, Dudley injected Drummond with sodium amytal, a powerful sedative, the attorneys say. Dudley's files said he intended to erase part of Drummond's brain and implant new behavioral characteristics.

By February 1992, Drummond sat in his room all day, talking to himself, and required constant care, his attorneys say.

When Jeanie Drummond confronted Dudley about her son's treatment in November 1992, he told her he was going to take over hospitals, police forces and schools, and that she was fortunate he wanted her son to be one of his trained soldiers, attorneys said.

That was the end of Drummond's treatment by Dudley.

"Dr. Dudley told her he was working for the CIA, and if she told anybody about this, he'd kill her," family attorney Lisa Marchese said in her opening statement. "When it was all said and done, a young man was destroyed. Stephen lives in abject terror of lapsing back into the delusional state that Dr. Dudley throttled him headlong into."

Dudley, who died at 64, was a graduate of the University of Washington Medical School. He did postgraduate work in psychiatry and was a professor at the school from the mid-1960s until he resigned in 1991. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years later.

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