For 71 days this year, 15-year-old David Brill of Macon, Georgia, was finally able to ride a bike, lift weights and concentrate on his schoolwork after his parents — desperate to find something to control his seizures — allowed him to smoke small amounts of marijuana.
Now, the teen is in a group home and under the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services‘ custody after sheriff’s deputies removed him from his parents, Suzeanna and Matthew Brill, when someone sent in a tip about the drug use in April. Jailed for a week on misdemeanor reckless conduct charges, the Brills could now face up to a year behind bars and a $1,000 fine.
Publicity from the case has resulted in numerous threats and nasty emails to Twiggs County Sheriff Darren Mitchum, who told reporters at a press conference last month that “whatever the law is, it’s my job to enforce it.”
“The fact is that, as of today, marijuana is not legal in the state of Georgia to possess or smoke or use for recreational use,” he said, “and that’s it.”
DFCS officials won’t comment about the case, other than to tell PEOPLE in a statement that “foster care is a short-term measure that should only be used as a last resort when there is evidence of imminent threat or risk of harm and the child is in need of the protection of the courts.”
“The division’s case managers weigh several factors — including the caregivers’ demonstrated capacity to safely care for the child and the likelihood that any risks will reoccur — prior to petitioning the court to remove a child from his caretakers,” says Walter Jones, the agency’s director of communications and legislative affairs.
The Brills insist that they made the right decision in allowing their son to “light up” and wouldn’t hesitate to make it again.
“I was tired of seeing my kid half-dead all the time,” Suzeanna, 39, who works as a waitress, tells PEOPLE. “[Marijuana] helped my son where all other options had failed.”
David, who has had special needs for most of his life, was having seven to 10 seizures a day when Suzeanna and Matthew, his stepfather, finally decided earlier this year to treat him with cannabis because anti-seizure and ADHD drugs prescribed by doctors weren’t having much effect and there was a long wait list for Georgia’s Low THC Oil Program.
Right away, they tell PEOPLE they noticed a remarkable change in David’s health.
“He became a ‘normal’ kid,” says Matthew, 40, who works as a contract builder and truck driver. Matthew bought a whole cannabis plant, himself, supervising David’s consumption.
“His speech and motor coordination improved, he completed homework and chores, he was able to focus, and most importantly, he didn’t have any seizure episodes for 71 days while being treated with cannabis,” Matthew tells PEOPLE. “We were thrilled to have him healthy and happy.”
Several of David’s seventh-grade teachers told Suzeanna that they were impressed with her son’s quick turnaround at school and wondered what she was doing differently.
“I told them that we were trying an herbal supplement as an alternative to the heavy pharmaceuticals David had been on his entire life,” she says. “We only disclosed the cannabis therapy to the medical professionals on David’s treatment team.”
She and Matthew were shocked when a DFCS investigator came to their house with deputies from the Twiggs County Sheriff’s Office on April 19th. When the Brills admitted they had allowed David to smoke marijuana, they were ordered to stop and complied, says their attorney, Catherine Bernard.
“Within 14 hours, David had the worst seizure of his life and had to be taken to the hospital,” Bernard tells PEOPLE. “At the medical center, police and DCFS seized custody of David and his service dog, Malory, who was taken to the pound. Warrants for reckless conduct were taken out on Matthew and Suzeanna and both were arrested later that day.”
The Brills spent six days in jail, and when their son was released from the hospital after one week, he was sent to a group home. Brief visits and phone conversations are allowed, but David’s seizures have returned, says Suzeanna, and now he is separated from the service dog that used to “alert” when they were about to happen.
“We went through the adoption process to get Malory back, and we were grateful that she hadn’t been killed,” Suzeanna tells PEOPLE. “David is back on high doses of (anti-seizure) Trileptal and tells us he feels ‘zombified.’ He misses feeling like a normal 15-year-old kid.”
She and Matthew are hopeful that their lawyer can help them to regain custody of David — a process that may take up to a year. A court hearing has been set for June 14.
“Suzeanna and David Brill did not harm or endanger David by treating him with cannabis when years of heavy pharmaceuticals failed to control his seizure disorder,” their attorney tells PEOPLE.
“The state has proven to be far more of a threat to David’s health and safety than his loving parents,” she says. “The outpouring of public sentiment for the Brills is a powerful demonstration that we the people are ready to right this wrong, and restore the families who are suffering under our misguided drug laws.”