Father sues over attack on son during supervised visitation

LARGO — Timothy Driscoll's son was stabbed by his ex-wife during court-ordered visitation two years ago. Now he's suing the psychologist who was supposed to supervise the visit.

Celeste Minardi attacked her then-15-year-old son with an ornamental dagger and a 12-inch drywall knife, slashing his abdomen, cutting his throat and wounding his forehead, police said. Minardi, now 57, was charged with attempted murder and aggravated child abuse. She is now in state custody.

The suit filed by Driscoll last week blames psychologist Gerard Boutin for the brutal attack, alleging that he failed to protect the boy and make sure the visit was properly supervised at his office at 1301 Seminole Blvd.

"They were in a position to protect him, they had a responsibility to protect him, and they just failed to do that," said Driscoll, who works as a lawyer with the law firm of Rahdert, Steele, Reynolds & Driscoll, which represents the St. Petersburg Times on First Amendment issues.

Boutin did not return two messages for comment left at his office on Thursday.

The case also blames Boutin's partner, Dr. Ronald Knaus, and Boutin's daughter, Suzanne Miller, who was supervising the visit the day of the attack.

Driscoll was awarded sole parental custody in the divorce. He and Minardi agreed that visitation be supervised by Boutin or any doctor he referred them to, according to their mediation agreement.

The suit alleges that Miller was "untrained and/or undertrained" and that Boutin was negligent in allowing her to supervise the visit.

Miller had a master's degree in social work and was pursuing her doctorate in psychology, according to sworn testimony in Minardi's criminal case. Knaus was not in the office the day of the attack, she said in that same testimony.

The suit also says Boutin was negligent for allowing Minardi to carry two large knives into the supervised visitation session.

Boutin never witnessed conduct that made him think Minardi was dangerous, according to his testimony in the criminal case.

It's common for the courts to appoint private people, such as a relative, neighbor or a teacher to supervise visitation, said Cherie Parker, a lawyer who specializes in family law.

"If I thought there was a significant chance of damage to a child I would only do supervised visitation through Community Action Stops Abuse (or another center with similar security measures)," she said.

CASA's visitation center has specific policies to protect visitors. The center searches bags, uses off-duty police officers, and is equipped with a metal detector, said Kris Nowland, director of youth, education and support services with CASA.

The state has recommended guidelines, but not required standards, for supervised visitation, Nowland said.

The suit also alleges that Boutin billed Driscoll as the supervising clinician, but did not provide that service.

Boutin said he supervised the visitations himself for three months but had a licensed mental health counselor take over for about nine months after telling Driscoll it would be cheaper to get someone else trained for supervisions, his testimony said. Miller had been supervising the visits for the previous year, he said.

Driscoll declined to talk about his son's current health. But the suit says the physical and emotional damages Bradley suffered are "permanent and continuing in nature" and it asks for compensation for those damages.

Here's what happened the day of the attack, according to sworn accounts by Boutin and Miller.

Minardi showed up as she usually did with two large bags and a purse. She routinely brought gifts and games. When the visit began, Bradley and Minardi were sitting on the couch in the office. Miller was seated at her desk. Minardi started to show Bradley his Easter gifts. She pulled out a cologne gift box and some cards. Then she reached into her bag, pulled out a knife and stabbed him.

Both Miller and the boy ran out of the room. Miller called 911. Boutin tended to the boy and ran into the room where Minardi was. She was holding a knife, first pointing it at herself and then at Boutin. He yelled, she dropped the knife and he pushed her down, away from the knife.

This week, there was a new development in the criminal case. On Tuesday, Minardi was found incompetent to proceed, reports her lawyer John Trevena.

She will be transported to a state mental facility, he said.

"If competency cannot be restored in five years, she essentially becomes a ward of the state and the criminal charges would be dismissed," Trevena said.

He said he's pursuing a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Minardi has bipolar disorder and a history of mental illness tracing back to adolescence, he said.

"There's no freedom for her in the near future under any scenario," Trevena said. "It's just a question of mental health treatment or prison."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Father sues over attack on son during supervised visitation 03/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 25, 2010 9:09pm]

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