- 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)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.