Montana officials removed 27 children from a youth treatment center earlier this month after accusations of disturbing “chronic” child abuse and neglect.
The Lewiston Review reports that accusations against the ranch in Rexford include both mental and physical abuse against children dealing in issues that range from reactive attachment disorder to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). One child was reportedly shot with a nail gun, while other children were body-slammed, hit, kicked, and even spit on.
Staff members were also accused of making some of the children walk anywhere from 15 to 20 miles with improper shoes on, or sometimes with no shoes at all. They also allegedly withheld food from children and doled out ongoing psychological abuse.
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Some staff members failed to provide children with needed medications and failed to report runaway children to authorities in a timely manner, according to court documents.
The children ranged in ages from 11 to 17. Both boys and girls were enrolled at the ranch, although they were kept in separate quarters.
There are many people to thank for the safe removal of 27 children from a private program in Rexburg after reports of abuse and neglect. https://t.co/SkgCYsmWdT
— Missoulian (@missoulian) July 25, 2019
According to the Division of Criminal Justice Administrator, Bryan Lockerby, accusations against the ranch date back for a decade. During recent months, DPHHS received complaints that intensified in frequency, which prompted an emergency July 23 removal of the children.
Around 10 years ago, according to the Missoulian, Bill Sutley, executive director at Ranch for Kids, refused to let an inspector from the Department of Labor onto the premises to check on the children, according to court documents.
Inspector Rick Cockrell wrote that Ranch for Kids was the only place out of over 20 treatment facilities he inspected that turned him away, adding that Sutley acted in a “threatening” manner.
Last week, Sutley told the outlet that he was not a dangerous person and denied that abuse took place at the ranch. He also reportedly claimed the state didn’t allow the ranch to provide “proprietary treatment” that would allow the kids to heal.
Meanwhile, at least one staff member was relieved when a judge signed an emergency order for the state to remove the children. Former staff member Nia Stoken said she felt “a huge sigh of relief that the kids that were there are getting freed from the hell that they’ve experienced,” according to the Missoulian.
Jennifer Downard, who was one in treatment at the ranch, added she was “mad that it took this long for the state to do something about this.”
She reportedly claimed that “no one believed us or listened to us when we were there.”
Mingled expressions of gratitude and frustration greeted the news that Montana's health department had removed all 27 children from the Ranch for Kids in remote Rexford and suspended the private program's license. https://t.co/D6eFhfvDzg pic.twitter.com/ePXrgoo5kW
— Missoulian (@missoulian) July 25, 2019
Downard said she witnessed staff members belittle orphaned kids by calling them “useless” and telling them their parents “gave you up for a reason.”
Other children were reportedly removed from the ranch before their parents were notified. However, Health Department spokesman Jon Ebelt said they had to act quickly after receiving reports of weapons on the property.
Sutley maintained that the state did more damage than good by removing the kids so abruptly.
“If you want to help and be part of the solution, let’s talk. If you don’t, get out of my way and leave me the hell alone, because you’re not helping. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I guess that’s how I feel about it.”
The story continues to develop. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.
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[Feature Photo: Pixabay]