Man charged with mutilation center of legal battle between mother, Milwaukee Co.
Mother maintains Milwaukee county failed to provide adequate support to mentally disabled son
A West Allis man charged in Waukesha County with biting his caregiver's ear off has lived a life punctuated by violence, the result of a debilitating brain tumor and, his mother maintains, inadequate support from Milwaukee County health officials.
His mother, Margaret Bach, has claimed in several lawsuits filed in state and federal court that her son Aaron did not get the support he needed from Milwaukee County, the agency responsible for providing the 25-year-old West Allis man's care. She also has claimed in court documents that Aaron's court-appointed corporate guardian, Life Navigators, does not recognize her son's needs.
Her son's life has consumed her, she states.
"Margaret was forced into slavery, under the daily threat of physical attack by a 230-pound raging 22-year-old male," she wrote in a 2011 lawsuit affidavit filed in Milwaukee County.
To date, all the court's decisions have gone against her.
Maureen McGinnity, an attorney for Life Navigators, told NOW that Margaret was removed as Aaron's guardian because she was not serving his best interest and that her lawsuits were "frivolous."
"The court-appointed guardian has done everything possible to care for Aaron, despite his mother's attempt to hinder that," she said.
Tumor causes outbursts
According to a criminal complaint filed Aug. 28, Aaron allegedly bit off his caretaker's ear on July 5 outside Westbrook Health Center in Waukesha. The caretaker, John Friedli, told police he and another caretaker were leaving the facility with Aaron when he allegedly became upset and attacked Friedli. Aaron had bitten him several times before, Friedli told police, but the injuries were not as severe.
Friedli was provided immediate medical treatment, but doctors said they would be unable to reattach his ear, according to the complaint.
Aaron Bach was charged with mayhem and substantial battery, and is facing the potential for up to 43 years in prison and $110,000 in fines.
According to court documents filed by his mother, Aaron has an inoperable benign tumor in the hypothalamus portion of his brain, which has reduced his mental capacity to that of a child.
"Aaron is subject to unpredictable seizures, unpredictable running away (including into traffic), fits of rage and violent outbursts, which destroy property and endanger and injure Aaron and others, including Margaret and Aaron's other caregivers," a trial court judge determined in 2009.
Aaron has spent most of his life living at the Chileda Institute in La Crosse, a facility that specializes in serving children and young adults with unique mental health needs.
In 2006, Aaron turned 18 and was removed from Chileda. Margaret was appointed his legal guardian, responsible for caring for his personal and property interests.
"Since then, (Margaret) Bach has litigated extensively and largely unsuccessfully to keep him placed in her home, with herself as Aaron's guardian and at an idealistic level of care, all at county expense," an appeals court judge wrote in June.
Margaret Bach scoffed at the term "idealistic" in an interview with NOW.
"It is not idealistic," she said. "It is necessary. This is what he needs."
In May, 2007, Margaret challenged a trial court's determination that the least-restrictive placement for Aaron was a 24-hour intermediate care facility, arguing that an adult family home or community-based residential facility would be a better fit.
The court modified the order and Aaron was placed in an adult family home in October, 2007. One month later, Margaret pulled him from the home, claiming the facility did not provide proper medical oversight. According to an affidavit filed in 2010, she also claimed that Aaron had been physically and sexually assaulted by staff members.
Aaron began living with Margaret in November, 2007. She was paid to provide eight hours of care a day to Aaron, and healthcare aides also were hired to help manage his care.
In May, 2008, Margaret, acting as her own attorney, filed a motion requesting that a judge order the county to "adequately fund Aaron's care," which included paying Margaret for her care-giving services, attorney fees, "health insurance for fiscal agents if needed," and, "for snow shoveling, grass cutting."
Hearings on the motion were merged with an annual "Watts" review in October, 2008. A Watts review is required under state law for individuals placed under protective placement. Margaret testified at the review that two people should provide 24-hour care to Aaron because of his "violent rages."
She argued that she should be paid as one of the two caregivers, that the caregivers not live in the home, and that the county pay the caregivers $15 to $17 an hour.
An administrator with the Milwaukee Disability Services Division said at the review that it was the division's policy not to pay a guardian to provide in-home care to a ward, arguing that it presented a potential conflict of interest.
According to a transcript from the hearing, Judge Mel Flanagan said: "I am very frightened that your son is gonna hurt someone very seriously; if not you, then somebody who is a caregiver, a student, a teacher, a bus driver, somebody walking down the street when he runs off."
To avoid that, the court urged Margaret to accept the county's offer to hire a 24-hour, live-in caregiver, to be paid an amount determined by the county.
Margaret apparently refused live-in care (she said in an interview that her house could not accommodate a live-in caregiver), and, in turn, the county refused to pay her for caring for Aaron, citing the conflict of interest. Efforts to place Aaron in a group home were sabotaged by Margaret, the county told the court, claiming that she sent 911 call logs and police reports to potential homes.
In September, 2009, Milwaukee County petitioned for Margaret's removal as Aaron's guardian, arguing, among other things, that Aaron was without an adequate, over-arching treatment plan to help him control his outbursts.
The court approved the petition, concluding: "Although her intentions may be good, (Margaret) has not acted in the best interest of her son. She has been unable to objectively review all options available to Aaron with a clear and open mind."
Margaret earned a law degree from Marquette University in 2010. She filed a lawsuit that year against Milwaukee County and several other organizations responsible for Aaron's care.
She claimed in the lawsuit she lost her job, her car, health insurance and home caring for her son and claimed she should be reimbursed "for all the hours she provided care at the market rate."
Despite losing guardianship status, Margaret said in the lawsuit she was still caring for her son at that time and supporting herself using money from her 401(k). She claimed that she suffered "severe emotional distress, expecting a sheriff to show up any day and haul my son away to another, even more unsafe placement where he could be assaulted again or run into the street and be killed."
That fear came partially true Oct. 7, 2011. Aaron was forcibly removed from Margaret's home through court order because the environment was deemed unsafe.
A month before, in September, 2011, Margaret petitioned for a review of Life Navigators' conduct and for its removal as Aaron's guardian. The petition was unsuccessful and she appealed the decision.
No sanctions, yet
The appeals court affirmed the lower court's decision, stating "Bach's petition and supporting documents fell well short of what is necessary to demonstrate what would be necessary to remove a guardian. Instead, Bach uses her appeal rights to revisit years' worth of already-litigated grievances."
The respondents in the case requested that Margaret be sanctioned by the court for "ignoring this court's admonitions against launching baseless claims, treating the court with disrespect, continuing to relitigate settled matters and failing to follow court rules."
The appeals court stopped short of sanctioning her, though it said the request by the respondents, Milwaukee County and Life Navigators, had merit.
"Being Aaron's mother does not endow her with the right to sidestep, manipulate or disregard the rules by which all litigants must play. Further like behavior will result in sanctions," the appeals court wrote.
Margaret said she has appealed every decision for which an appeal is possible, including requesting the U.S. Supreme Court to review her federal court cases.
"I have always been confident that I was going to be vindicated, and I was going to win," she said. "This is evil. It's not just wrong, it is cruel and evil."
When asked whether she regrets not accepting an alternative placement for Aaron when it was still available, she said there was no feasible alternative. She said she does not trust group homes, citing Aaron's alleged sexual assault at one facility.
Court actions ahead
Aaron did not appear at an initial appearance in Waukesha County Circuit Court on Dec. 3.
According to court records, his attorney, Christine Hansen, argued that Aaron was not fit to stand trial and the court ordered that his mental competency be reviewed. Hansen could not be reached for comment.
A hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 17. Aaron Bach is expected to appear via video at that hearing.
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