In mid-June of 2016, Clem Fisher took his son Brandon to the Bridgewater Public Library, not far from Brandon’s apartment, to use the computers there. Since he was a child, Brandon had gone to the library for story time programs.
Brandon is 28 now and on the autism spectrum, a neurological condition that can impair social and communication skills. At the library, he used the computers to get on to Facebook, Google, and YouTube, and listen to music with headphones. He had enjoyed these things at home, until cable rates went up. Fisher, a retired US Drug Enforcement Administration agent who is helping to pay off his daughter’s college loans, canceled the service because of the rate hike.
A couple of months after he started going to the Bridgewater library, Brandon was approached by Lieutenant Thomas Schlatz of the local police department, who told him he “was making some of the people who work there feel uncomfortable” and gave him a no trespass order, banning him from the library. Later, Schlatz told Brandon’s parents that police do not initiate such orders; they simply carry them out on behalf of a business or property. In this case, the director of the library, Sean Daley, gave the order.
Fisher has since been on a mission to find out what exactly happened – and, he says, to “restore my son’s reputation.” He, too, has been told he is no longer welcome at the Bridgewater library because of “reckless and alarming” actions he has taken regarding the no trespass order against his son.
Since January, Fisher has addressed the Bridgewater library trustees, spoken to the police, argued his son’s case with the library director, filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), obtained character references for Brandon, researched training practices for public employees dealing with autistic people, and hired a lawyer.
Fisher responded to Daley that his cease-and-desist e-mail telling him to stay away from the library was “threatening and coercive,” and said he has asked the state attorney general’s office to launch a civil rights investigation.
“I’ve done nothing but exercise my right to free speech,” said Fisher, who notes that as a former FBI and DEA agent and Marine Corps officer, he has “served this country.”
What did Brandon do at the library to stir up this hornet’s nest?
“He was harassing and stalking underage women,” Daley said. “He was seen lurking around the children’s programs multiple times, and he was spoken to.”
Fisher does not believe that.
“Brandon is a very docile, friendly person,” he said. “He’s not a threat. I think my son wandered aimlessly around. He might have said hello to females.”
In a recent letter to the MCAD, attorney Michael Turner, hired by Fisher, wrote that Brandon broke no law, left the library when requested, and instead of being banned should have been spoken to by library staffers about their concerns.
After a January meeting, at which Fisher spoke about his son’s banishment for an hour, the library board declined to rescind the ban.
Daley told the Globe that the situation is “unfortunate,” and said his staff is trained to deal with “people who have disabilities.”
He has been backed by town management. “The library director took the steps he felt were necessary, as he was concerned about the patrons of the library and his staff,” said assistant town manager Kimberly Williams.
Brandon attended Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School where he met his girlfriend, who also has autism. Since 2005, he has worked as a grocery bagger at Roche Bros. in Bridgewater. He lives in a Section 8 apartment and drives a car. His father handles his paperwork.
After he was kicked out of the Bridgewater library, Brandon started going to the East Bridgewater Public Library. The computers are located just outside the library director’s office, and director Virginia Johnson said that Brandon “has really been great.” She’s had no complaints about him.
Occasionally, he’ll bop his head to music or start singing, but Johnson knows how to handle it. “I’ll say, ‘Remember where you are, Brandon. It’s a library.’ He’s got some exuberance, and that’s fine. It’s easily redirected.” Johnson understands Brandon because her 22-year-old son is also on the autism spectrum.
When I recently met with Clem and Brandon Fisher at the East Bridgewater library, Brandon sat quietly next to his father, occasionally answering questions. Sometimes, his lips moved silently, or he put his head on the desk. When I sneezed, he said, “Bless you,” and when the interview was over, he held up his hand for a high five.
“The irony is that the Bridgewater-Raynham school system has one of the best special education programs for students with all types of disabilities,” Clem Fisher said. “To have a public library staff so clueless on how to interact and properly understand an autistic person is pathetic.”
The folks in Bridgewater obviously saw it differently.
Brandon now wears a blue rubber bracelet on his wrist that says “I HAVE AUTISM” and a pin on his polo shirt with the same words. He carries a card in his wallet to First Responders informing them that he has a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, and what it is, with contact info in case of emergency. His father ordered them.
But the first thing Clem Fisher did, when his son was banned from the Bridgewater library, was to turn the cable service back on, and buy him a new laptop. Brandon doesn’t go to the East Bridgewater library as much anymore. “But he knows he’s welcome there,” his dad said.
Bella English writes from Milton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.