Montgomery County prosecutors said Tuesday that they have dropped criminal charges against the parents of adult autistic twins who were found locked in a barren, urine-stained room this summer — concluding that the twins’ living conditions were unacceptable but that the parents actions were not necessarily criminal.
The development in the cases against Janice Land, 60, and John Land, 57, point to how challenging and complicated their lives had become. The couple were trying to care for their two 22-year-old sons who cannot communicate verbally, can be destructive and have trouble using the bathroom on their own, according to court records.
“This was absolutely the correct move to dismiss these cases,” said Robert McCarthy, a Montgomery lawyer who has practiced disabilities law for 30 years and has a 13-year-old son with autism. “You had two struggling parents who were doing the best they could. They were failing, but they weren’t committing a crime.”
One seemingly positive consequence of the criminal case: The charges prompted social workers to obtain legal guardianship of the twins and move them to a specialized residential home. The Lands are able to visit them, officials said.
“It’s unfortunate that the parents had to be arrested to get the care their adult children needed and are now receiving,” said McCarthy, who was not involved in the Land cases.
Maura Lynch, an attorney for John Land, said Tuesday that he and his wife have devoted their lives to caring for the twins. “While they’re heartbroken [that] their sons no longer live with them, they are satisfied the children are receiving appropriate services,” Lynch said.
The Lands live in a small home in Rockville and have two other sons who have had recent run-ins with the law, according to court records. Early on the morning of July 17, a SWAT team entered the Lands’ home as part of a marijuana investigation. As the officers worked their way through the basement, they came upon a room with an external deadbolt, court records show. They made their way inside and found the twins.
The officers smelled an overwhelming odor of urine, they would later write in court documents. There was no furniture in the room and only one light, and the twins appeared to be sleeping on a tile floor with a comforter. The officers questioned John and Janice Land, who said that the twins spent nights in the room and that, in the past, the twins had turned on faucets in other parts of the house or had run away. The Lands said they removed the furniture from the room because it had become soiled.
Detectives charged each of the Lands with two counts of abuse of vulnerable adults and two counts of false imprisonment.
By late July, prosecutors at the Montgomery County state’s attorney’s office had begun studying the allegations, the living conditions and the Lands’ efforts to raise the twins.
Eventually, prosecutors reviewed thousands of pages of documents recording the education and counseling services that the twins received, according to Lynch and John Land III, the father of John Land.
The parents of children with severe autism often struggle with keeping them from running away. But many are able to do so while also allowing them to live in clean, furnished rooms.
More generally, parents also cope most with the stark differences in available services as their children get older. McCarthy, the lawyer, said it’s not just an issue in Montgomery, it’s one nationwide: Young children are “entitled” to services, while adult children are just “eligible” for them, making them much harder to get, meaning parents are more apt to become mired on waiting lists.
Prosecutors eventually concluded they would have trouble proving in court that the Lands had any criminal intent, said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the Montgomery state’s attorney’s office.
“The brothers will continue to be treated in a humane manner, with proper supervision,” Korionoff said. “Moving forward in a non-criminal context, the parents will be able to address their family’s own needs and visit their children. At some point, if you don’t have a criminal case, you have to move forward in a way that resolves issues for all parties involved.”