- Montana removed 27 children from an alternative youth treatment program citing allegations of physical and mental abuse, along with medical neglect.
- According to the state, the kids were hit, kicked, spit on by staff, forced to go on 15-20 mile disciplinary walks in hash conditions, withheld from food, subjected to prolonged isolation, and more.
- The facility’s executive director denied several allegations, calling them “deceptions,” and said he will fight the state’s suspension of the center’s license.
Authorities in Montana have removed 27 children from a youth treatment facility after learning of “consistent and chronic allegations of physical and psychological abuse, as well as medical neglect,” the state said Tuesday.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services removed the children from a facility called Ranch for Kids in Rexford, which is located in the northwest corner of the state.
In a news release the department said, “Allegations of egregious abuse regarding Ranch for Kids has escalated in both frequency and severity in recent months.”
“The 27 children that were removed are now at a safe location,” the agency added. “They are receiving medical care. The details of their care and condition are confidential.”
The children were removed during a two-hour-long sting operation conducted by 20 caseworkers and law enforcement authorities. On Wednesday, a state health department official said the agency had made contact with “virtually all of the parents” and many kids have already been reunited with their families.
The state department also suspended the nonprofit organization’s license “to prevent future abuse,” and said that information it can publically release is limited because the investigation is ongoing.
Ranch for Kids is a nonprofit organization which describes itself as a treatment center for “Kids who have been adopted, and suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD),” according to its website.
However, the state says that the children, who are between 11-17-years-old, were actually subjected to consistent abuse. Reports of physical abuse included allegations that the children were hit, kicked, bodyslammed, and spit on by staff. One child was even allegedly shot with a nail gun.
Several staff members were accused of “persistent psychological abuse.” Food was allegedly withheld from the children, who were also subjected to prolonged isolation. Authorities say children did not receive any medical attention when it was critically needed and said medications were not stored, administered, or regulated properly.
The state also heard reports of excessive discipline like forcing the children to go on 15-20 mile disciplinary walks, with no shoes or improper shoes, in harsh conditions along remote Forest Service roads. Children who ran away were also not reported to authorities in a timely or consistent manner, even in harsh winter conditions, the state said.
Investigators interviewed former staff members, counselors, and the children, according to KECI. The investigation led to a court order, which allowed the department and Child Protective Services to remove the children and suspend the ranch’s license.
Authorities made no arrests during their visit, but children are still being interviewed, and the Montana Department of Justice said it would explore criminal charges.
Ranch Denies Allegations
Bill Sutley, the ranch’s executive director, said he is cooperating with the state’s investigation. However, he has denied some of the allegations against the facility, including the allegation about a child being shot with a nail gun, according to the Missoulian.
The Montana based newspaper reported that he called some of the allegations listed by the state “deceptions,” or deviations from the truth. Sutley confirmed that children were sent on disciplinary walks, but said they were never in improper conditions.
“We can talk about therapeutic walks, we can talk about abuse, we can talk about neglect, but unless you’ve emotionally experienced living with these kids, you’re not going to get it,” he told the Missoulian. “Everything we’re here to do to stand against is what we’re being accused of.”
However, the paper noted that in May, a notice that the Montana Department of Labor and Industry issued to Ranch for Kids said: “Ranch for Kids provided conflicting information about the purpose of the walks. Mr. Sutley claimed the walks are not a punishment or behavior modification, but the walks are also repeatedly described by Mr. Sutley and Ranch for Kids staff as a consequence for severe behavior.”
In another statement to CNN, Sutley said the allegations are “selected fabrications of information from incredible sources,” He also argued that the children had already been through trauma and said the state was only causing more.
Sutley plans to fight the state’s decision to suspend the ranch’s license. He said Ranch for Kids has 10 days to respond and said there will be a hearing.
“We fully expect to go through and clear the air,” Sutley added. “We look forward to the opportunity to clear the air and be exonerated of the misconstrued allegations.”
The state took action against the center as part of new legislation that went into effect on July 1. Montana lawmakers passed a bill moving oversight of private alternative treatment programs to the state health department after an investigation by the Missoulian found the programs faced few sanctions despite several complaints.
Prior to July 1, DPHHS did not have licensing authority over these programs.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Missoulian) (NBC News)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.
See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)
Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”
Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.
New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer
Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.
“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”
Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.
Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”
“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.
Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.
Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.
“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”
Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.
Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.
Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.
It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.
During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”
At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.”