This is a  staff list for Restoration Youth Academy in Mobile, AL

THIS PROGRAM IS CLOSED!  BUT, OPENED AGAIN AS SAVING YOUTH FOUNDATION--ALSO NOW CLOSED!

(we are working to acquire the complete records for ALL years)

 

 

 

[Video Description: Episode 43 features an interview with retired Police Captain Charles Kennedy, HEAL AL Coordinator, regarding his efforts to get justice for victims and permanently close Restoration Youth Academy. Restoration Youth Academy (RYA) is/was also known as Saving Youth Foundation and was co-founded by William Knott, a former Bethel Boys Academy staffer who was responsible for much of the worst abuses at that facility. Alternative Youth Academy, claimed by RYA to be its sister program in Georgia, remains open.]

We advise current and/or former staff to report any abuses you may have witnessed while working at the Restoration Youth Academy.  For information on your rights and how to take action, visit www.heal-online.org/blowthewhistle.htm.  If you were fired or forced to resign because you opposed any illegal and/or unethical practices at Restoration Youth Academy, you have the right to take action. 

 

If you were harmed (family or survivor) by Restoration Youth Academy, please contact info@heal-online.org if you remember the long-term employees and from which years.  This will help!   Also, if you recognize any of these staff as having worked at another program, please send in any information about their past or present employment at other facilities and/or cults.

 

HEAL recommends against enrollment and advises parent to remove children from the care of the individuals listed below immediately.

 

Name

Unit/Position

Additional Information
Lance Binns Staff  
William Knott Co-Owner/Founder Knott formerly worked for now closed and confirmedly abusive Bethel Boys' Academy in Lucedale, MS.
Mack Berry Staff  
Corey Hunter Staff  
John David Young, III Staff  
Louis Terell Staff  
Larry Murphy Staff  
Louise Shorts Staff  
Allen Brent Dumas Staff  
Barry Williams Staff  
Cheryl Miles (Nettles) Teacher  
Aleyshia Moffett Counselor  
Tyronda Rogers Staff  
Martha Fells Staff  
Mary F.  Young Staff  
John D. Young, Jr. Director  
Kevin Young Staff  
*(Restoration Youth Academy, like many other programs in this industry, keeps a "tight lid" on any specific information regarding their staff, qualifications, and practices.  Please contact us with the names of any staff of which you have firsthand knowledge or experience.  Thank you for your help.)
External Link: http://blog.al.com/live/2012/04/questions_abound_behind_the_ra.html  (If that link/article is no longer available, click here.)
HEAL is in the process of reviewing the enrollment documents for this program.  We appreciate your patience in regards to our reviews.  Thank you.
It is believed that Restoration Youth Academy is the re-animation of Bethel Boys' Academy.  The advertising materials and policies of both programs mirror each other.  This is a serious concern.

(Boy's Barracks at RYA)

(Boy's Windows in Rooms are Boarded Up at RYA)

(Fence and long-view of RYA)

(This is what RYA calls "school")

(This is another look at RYA's "school".)

(Solitary Confinement Area)

(Solitary Confinement Room @ RYA)

External Link: http://blog.al.com/live/2012/05/post_196.html
External Link:

Prichard Boot Camp Threatened with Eviction

(PRICHARD, Ala.) - Prichard’s embattled boot camp for troubled teens was threatened with eviction at city council Thursday night.

“[Restoration Youth Academy] owes the city and needs to pay up,” Councilwoman Earlene Martin-Harris said. “It was my recommendation that we begin the eviction process right now.”

After it was revealed the boot camp was operating for two years without paying rent, the city demanded RYA founder Pastor John Young get an appraisal of the property, obtain a business license, and pay $27,000 in back rent. As of Thursday meeting, Young still owed $19,000.

“All I’m asking for is a little mercy, five months [to pay],” Young pleaded to council members.

Young said he could pay the $19,000 immediately, but he would not be able to afford payroll and feed the teens. The rest of the city council rejected Martin-Harris’ motion to start the eviction process and stood behind RYA.

“Are we hard hearted that we won’t give these kids the opportunity to be successful?” Council President Herman Towner said. “It’s going to be another vacant building. We’re going to pass up on money, and that don’t make any sense.”

Under the deal brokered at the meeting, RYA must pay back rent in full after five months. In addition, the boot camp must also pay $1,500 in current rent each month.

RYA has been plagued by allegations of abuse, though the district attorney has said there is no credible evidence supporting the claims. It was also revealed the head drill instructor, William Knott, came from Bethel Boys Academy in Mississippi, which shut down following a major class action lawsuit alleging serious abuse. The lawsuit alleged Knott “planned, orchestrated, and directed the abuses”.

Source: http://www.local15tv.com/news/local/story/Prichard-Boot-Camp-Threatened-with-Eviction/NGkWt6Hkf0eYAUoFELYijw.cspx

Prichard Boot Camp Threatened with Eviction (PRICHARD, Ala.) - Prichard’s embattled boot camp for troubled teens was threatened with eviction at city council Thursday night. “[Restoration Youth Academy] owes the city and needs to pay up,” Councilwoman Earlene Martin-Harris said. “It was my recommendation that we begin the eviction process right now.” After it was revealed the boot camp was operating for two years without paying rent, the city demanded RYA founder Pastor John Young get an appraisal of the property, obtain a business license, and pay $27,000 in back rent. As of Thursday meeting, Young still owed $19,000. “All I’m asking for is a little mercy, five months [to pay],” Young pleaded to council members. Young said he could pay the $19,000 immediately, but he would not be able to afford payroll and feed the teens. The rest of the city council rejected Martin-Harris’ motion to start the eviction process and stood behind RYA. “Are we hard hearted that we won’t give these kids the opportunity to be successful?” Council President Herman Towner said. “It’s going to be another vacant building. We’re going to pass up on money, and that don’t make any sense.” Under the deal brokered at the meeting, RYA must pay back rent in full after five months. In addition, the boot camp must also pay $1,500 in current rent each month. RYA has been plagued by allegations of abuse, though the district attorney has said there is no credible evidence supporting the claims. It was also revealed the head drill instructor, William Knott, came from Bethel Boys Academy in Mississippi, which shut down following a major class action lawsuit alleging serious abuse. The lawsuit alleged Knott “planned, orchestrated, and directed the abuses”. Source: http://www.local15tv.com/news/local/story/Prichard-Boot-Camp-Threatened-with-Eviction/NGkWt6Hkf0eYAUoFELYijw.cspx  
Private Christian boot camp shut down, owners arrested South Floridian who alleged abuse at Alabama facility reacts Small Text Medium Text Large Text Print South Floridian who alleged abuse at shut down boot camp reacts MOBILE, Ala. - The owners of a private Christian boot camp where parents paid to send their troubled teens have been arrested and the facility is also shut down. Madison Litsky said the emotion flooded in when she heard that a so-called boot camp for troubled kids had been shut down and the two men running the place were arrested. "Yes, I did cry," Litsky said. "I was overwhelmed by what happened ... while I was there, and how it affected my life and it still affects my life today." Quick Clicks Teen: Camp pastor punched me Teenagers allege abuse at camp Litsky, who lives in Plantation, was one of numerous teens who alleged abuse at the private facility in Alabama called Restoration Youth Academy. She and another South Florida teen, William Vargas, told their stories to Local 10 in 2013. "He hit me and hit me again," Litsky recalled. "I was choked," Vargas said. William Knott and Pastor John Young, who ran the camps, denied the claims, but the Mobile Police Department shut down their current camp, now called the Saving Youth Foundation, for sanitary violations March 5 after serving a search warrant there during an ongoing criminal abuse investigation, removing all 36 teens there. Knott was arrested on an unrelated domestic violence warrant, and Young was arrested on a traffic warrant. "They didn't deserve to be in an environment like that," Litsky said. Litsky, who is now 20, is now a lifeguard on Fort Lauderdale Beach and is getting training to become an EMT. She said she's relieved the 36 teens have been rescued from the camp. "None of the kids there -- bad or not -- deserve any of that," said Litsky. "Yeah, those kids needed help, but they weren't getting the help they needed." Litsky is expected to complete her EMT training in May as the criminal investigation in Alabama continues. A Mobile, Alabama, police spokeswoman told Local 10's Bob Norman the 36 teens removed from the boot camp were turned over to the state and are being returned to their parents. Source: http://www.local10.com/news/private-christian-boot-camp-shut-down-owners-arrested/31787210
FOX10 News Investigates PART 1: Saving Youth Foundation Posted: Oct 29, 2015 7:18 PM PDT Updated: Oct 29, 2015 7:19 PM PDT By Renee Dials, FOX10 News Anchor BioEmail Connect Biography renee.dials@fox10tv.com   The sleeping quarters of children in the Saving Youth Foundation. Three people affiliated with the facility have been charged with aggravated abuse. Also on the Web Exclusive details on Mobile abuse investigation MOBILE, AL (WALA) - Three people charged with aggravated abuse at a residential youth facility in Mobile will go on trial in a few months.   MOREAdditional LinksPoll According to the Mobile County District Attorney's office it's the first time the owners of such a facility have been charged with felony child abuse in Mobile County.   Supporters of Saving Youth Foundation say the church-based operation is responsible for positive changes in the lives of children in its care, but, the facility was shut down by DHR,  and a police investigation led to criminal indictments that allege dozens of kids were subjected to physical and emotional abuse for profit.  More than 30 children, most of whom were brought to Mobile from out-of state were removed from Saving Youth Foundation in March when the Alabama Department of Human Resources shut down the facility amid allegations of abuse.  Owners John Young Junior, William Knott, and Aleshia Moffett were indicted by a Mobile County Grand Jury on 24 charges of aggravated abuse.   The indictments allege children was kept in isolation for unreasonable periods of time, placed in unreasonable restraints, forced to do excessive exercise, and even denied prescription medication.  The felony charges are new, but the allegations involving the church-based operation and the three defendants are not.  "I was terrified at this point and then I said no I won't, and then he hit me in the head, the first time, and then he hit me in the head again after I stopped and surrendered."  That's what teenager Madison Litsky told Miami reporter Bob Norman in 2013. Litsky said Pastor Young hit her so hard in the face she almost passed out. Another teen, William Vargas, said he was attacked by William Knott when he couldn't keep up with the exercise. "So after he started choking me he threw me on the floor, and when i was on the floor he punched me on the side of the head," William Vargas said. Those are just some of the allegations reported while the facility was located in Prichard, and called Restoration Youth Academy.  "Punching them in the face, punching them in the stomach repeatedly. They would put them in isolation in their underwear and leave them for several days," Michelle Simmons said.  FOX10 News Reporter Renee Dials talked to Simmons at her home outside Atlanta recently. Simmons said she didn't find out about the alleged abuse until after she removed her 15-year-old son from the facility. "I just think he was afraid of what the consequences would be," Simmons said. Simmons said her child's arm was broken by another teen at the boot camp.  Simmons found out about the injury three weeks later when her son came home for a visit.  The hospital report indicates the teenager said he didn't tell anyone until a few days earlier.  But, Simmons believes the staff at the boot camp knew about the injury. "What they would do is if he acted up or did something they would come and pull his arm or poke him in the arm for punishment," she said.  "As I stated we intend to plead not guilty to all charges, and they have hired me for the representation of their defense, thank you. Bye," Defense attorney Marcus Foxx said.  Foxx did not have much to say about the current charges against the three defendants, following a court hearing in September.   Young has repeatedly denied the allegations of abuse.  This is what he told FOX10 News shortly after police raided SYF in March. "I don't really blame the kids. They want their freedom. They want to go smoke their pot and go out on the streets and go on Facebook and everything and a facility like this is a controlled environment," Young said.    Even though the facility is now shut down church members say they still support their pastor and the former boot camp facility. "Because I know that the facility was run to help children hands down.  Children would come here one way, they would leave differently," Lakeshia Peters said. "I know he's putting forth every effort that he has, every resource that he has available.  He's an awesome man of God," Marquis Jacobs said.  "These letters that you see right here were letters that were sneaked to me by the boys," Charles Kennedy said. Former Prichard Police Captain Charles Kennedy has been trying for years to bring attention to what he called a serious threat to children he discovered long before the boot camp changed its name and moved to Mobile. "It is one of the most frustrating things that I have had.  I was a police officer for many, many years, and this is probably one of the most frustrating things that I have ever dealt with in law enforcement," Kennedy said. Kennedy is glad the recent investigation has resulted in criminal indictments. "There's been this three year lack of action that finally, finally something was done," he said.  The three defendants are scheduled to go on trial in February.   Saving Youth Foundation is the new name for the same group that started out in Prichard under another name, Restoration Youth Academy.  It appears one of the defendants got his start with teen boot camps in another state.  Learn more about that in Part 2 of our special FOX10 News investigation.  All content © 2015, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.  Read more: http://www.fox10tv.com/story/30386115/fox10-news-investigates#ixzz3q704ezca
FOX10 News Investigates: Part 2: Saving Youth Foundation Posted: Oct 29, 2015 7:20 PM PDT Updated: Oct 29, 2015 7:20 PM PDT By Renee Dials, FOX10 News Anchor BioEmail Connect Biography renee.dials@fox10tv.com   The sleeping quarters of children in the Saving Youth Foundation. Three people affiliated with the facility have been charged with aggravated abuse. MOBILE, AL (WALA) - Three people accused of abusing children at a residential facility in Mobile are headed to trial. The new allegations stem from a long history of controversy surrounding the operation and its owners.  MOREAdditional LinksPoll An application that was filed in 2013 to establish the Saving Youth Foundation as a non-profit corporation in Mobile.  The application is on file with Probate Court in Mobile, and the Secretary of State in Montgomery.  It's the only document FOX10 News was able to locate for the residential facility for troubled teens.  One of the  SYF leaders recently indicted for alleged abuse was personally named in a federal lawsuit involving another boot camp facility in Mississippi. That was just before he came to the Alabama gulf coast to open up a similar business with the other two defendants.  "He started choking me. He picked me up from the floor and started choking me. He started stomping me on my back.  I still have nightmares about it every night," William Vargas said. Vargas told Miami television reporter Bob Norman he was beaten by drill instructor William Knott.   The alleged abuse happened at the Christian based facility that was then called Restoration Youth Academy. Knott has been the focus of complaints from other teens. It apparently started at another facility in Lucedale, where Knott worked. The Bethel Boys Academy and the dormitories that once stood on land on Mill Street Extension in Lucedale, Mississippi are now gone, but the people in the surrounding community still remember the controversial facility and, its chief drill instructor, William Knott.   "Bathrooms, shower houses, they had rec rooms, everything was built right here.  We just tore all these slabs up back in the winter," Lee Gibson explained.  Gibson said the Bethel Academy closed about 10 years ago. He doesn't know if the allegations of abuse were true, but he does remember the tough drill instructor. "They was kind of rough on them," Gibson said. Another neighbor Donnie Barry said kids often ran away from the home. Sometimes they ran to nearby homes including his. "They wanted somebody to help them, the guy was mean to them you know. But, you couldn't get involved with it, personally you couldn't get involved," Barry said. The allegations in Mississippi resulted in a federal lawsuit against the academy and William Knott. In 2006 a judge issued a 900 thousand dollar judgment for the boy, who according to the civil complaint was the victim of torture.  A few years later Knott along with John Young opened RYA in Prichard. The operation moved to Mobile in 2013.   Mobile County Health Department officials say the owners never received the required clearance from the health department to serve food.  There is no city license on file for SYF.  City spokesperson, George Talbot  told FOX10 News the facility might not need a license if it was under DHR for example.  But, DHR said SYF was not affiliated with the state agency.  And in fact, it was DHR that shut it down and removed the children in March.   While the workers at state run facilities are licensed and accredited, Young told a Miami station that didn't apply to his business. "Because we're a Christian based program, we're not required to have a state license with our program," Young said. But a state official told me even church run facilities are required to file for exemption, which according to the State Department of Revenue, SYF has not done.  I also checked with the IRS which said it had no record of any exemption for the business.  "I thought I was doing the right thing for him, you know," Michelle Simmons said. Simmons said she paid more than a thousand dollars a month to keep her son in the facilities care.  She says she didn't find out about the alleged abuse until she took him out last year.  "I had no inclination anything was amiss there," she said. But Lakesha Peters said the allegations have not shaken her faith in Saving Youth Foundation, or its pastor who is now charged with abuse, along with two others.  According to Peters one of the teens removed from SYF has been back since the facility was shut down. "He came back to tell Bishop Young what an impact he made on his life.  It was like a Tuesday night bible study, not just on Sunday.  It was a Tuesday and he came back on Sunday, and we've seen him ever since then," Peters said.   John Young, William Knott, and Aleshia Moffett are all scheduled to go on trial in February.  The teen residential facility that was shut down in Mobile is not the only one to come under criticism in the country.  We'll take a look at  what's being done in other areas to protect children from potential  institutional abuse in part three of our FOX10 News investigation.  Read more: http://www.fox10tv.com/story/30386154/fox10-news-investigates-part-2#ixzz3q715aor2
Former students share harrowing stories of life inside Alabama's worst religious private school Isolation rooms at Solid Rock Ministries on Spring Hill Ave. and Ann Street in Mobile, Ala. are shown in this March 2015 file photo. Pastor John David Young, instructor WIlliam Knott and counselor Aleshia Moffett were arrested on multiple counts of child abuse stemming from an investigation into a religious boot-camp-style school for troubled teens that operated first in Prichard, and later in Mobile. Their trial is scheduled for October 2016. The Mobile Press-Register photographed the Restoration Youth Academy in Prichard in 2012 and the Saving Youth Foundation/Solid Rock Ministries in 2015. (Sharon Steinmann/ssteinmann@al.com) By  Anna Claire Vollers AL.com on June 30, 2016 at 8:11 AM, updated June 30, 2016 at 2:26 PM  Lucas Greenfield was prepared to scale the razor-wire topped fence surrounding Restoration Youth Academy if it meant his freedom. While an instructor was busy, Greenfield seized his chance. He was nearly out the door when another student ratted him out. His punishment for the attempted escape was "isolation," an empty 8x8 room lit by a lone bulb that burned overhead day and night. He was clad only in his underwear. That was the rule. Instructors let him out, briefly, twice a day to use the bathroom. Sometimes he got to take a shower. Mostly he just sat or slept. Greenfield, then 14, spent two months in isolation. "When you're inside a tiny room where all you can see is four walls," he said, "you start – I won't say hallucinating, but you start going crazy." His thoughts ran in dark circles: "What's the best way to kill myself? Is there any way out of this? This is ridiculous. I hope I die." Restoration Youth Academy in Prichard, Ala. is shown in this file photo from April 5, 2012. (Press-Register/John David Mercer)Anna Claire Vollers   Restoration Youth Academy was a Christian bootcamp-style residential school for troubled youth, squatting in one of the grittiest neighborhoods in Prichard, the worn-down working-class city on Mobile's north side. Owner and Pastor John David Young and instructor William Knott tightly controlled how the "cadets" – boys and girls ages 10-17 – ate, slept, learned and exercised. Despite multiple investigations by the Mobile County district attorney's office and the Alabama Department of Human Resources, and despite complaints of abuse from some students – vehemently denied by Knott and Young – it took officials five years to close down the school. "This kind of program should not be allowed to exist," said Greenfield, who finally made it out when police showed up in 2015. "All because you put a cross on top of a building and call it a Christian program, we're supposed to overlook all that happens in those places?" Young shuttered the Prichard school in 2012, after being ordered to pay $27,000 in back rent to the city. Within weeks he reopened in Mobile, renaming the school Saving Youth Foundation and Solid Rock Ministries. Police raided that school in March 2015, and the Alabama Department of Human Resources removed 36 children following allegations of child abuse and deplorable living conditions.  Five months later, Knott and Young, along with school counselor Aleshia Moffett, were arrested on multiple counts of aggravated child abuse. They'll be tried together beginning Oct. 17, 2016. Keith Blackwood, Mobile County assistant district attorney, declined to speak in detail about the case, other than to explain that arrests came after police conducted "an extensive investigation" into abuse allegations. Young's defense attorney, Marcus Foxx, declined to comment. Attorneys for Knott and Moffett did not return calls or emails from AL.com. Allegations, investigations at Christian boot camp schools Pastor John David Young, instructor WIlliam Knott and counselor Aleshia Moffett were arrested on multiple counts of child abuse stemming from an investigation into a religious boot-camp-style school for troubled teens that operated first in Prichard, and later in Mobile. Their trial is scheduled for October 2016. The Mobile Press-Register photographed the Restoration Youth Academy in Prichard in 2012 and the Saving Youth Foundation/Solid Rock Ministries in 2015. (AL.com) The case has become a glaring example of how it's possible to exploit the loophole in Alabama law that allows church schools to operate without regulation or oversight. As the trial looms, several former students of Restoration Youth Academy and Saving Youth Foundation have given AL.com extensive accounts of abuse they say was rampant. "I just wanted one person to understand what happened to me," said Angelina Randazzo, who spent 18 months at the school in Prichard. "But there was no hope and nobody listened, nobody listened." Hard questions One of the first people who did listen was Capt. Charles Kennedy, an officer with the Prichard police department, now retired. His initial encounter with the Restoration Youth Academy was in October 2011, when a parent called police, concerned her son was being mistreated at the school. She asked if an officer would do a check to see that he was safe. Her son, despite appearing terrified, told Kennedy a nearly unbelievable story of beatings, verbal bullying and being exercised to the point of exhaustion. The boy's mother came to get him. After that, Kennedy began visiting the compound whenever he could, talking to the kids there and chatting with the instructors. The kids – when instructors weren't around – told him similar stories of physical and mental abuse. Messages scrawled on the walls of isolation rooms at Solid Rock Ministries in Mobile, Ala. are shown in this March 2015 photo. (Sharon Steinmann/ssteinmann@al.com) Sharon Steinmann   On one visit, he was in Knott's office and saw, on a video monitor, a naked boy crouched in one of the isolation rooms. Knott and Young assured Kennedy that he was only in isolation for a couple of days, to correct his behavior. "I said, 'Can he get some clothes?'" Kennedy said. "The next day I went back because I was concerned about him." The boy was still in the room. Someone had given him underwear. Knott and Young said the boy had threatened to commit suicide and had mental problems. Kennedy said he told them they needed to contact the Mobile County Mental Health department and the boy's parents. "I went back the next day and he's still in there," said Kennedy. The boy's name was Richard Austin Schuler. He was 14. He'd been sent to the school by his father and grandmother after his mother died, according to his other grandmother, Frances Henderson. When Kennedy asked to speak with him, Schuler said he hadn't been allowed to attend his mother's funeral and the staff had made fun of him. Kennedy and Henderson both said Schuler told them about one of the instructors handing him an automatic pistol and suggesting that he kill himself. Schuler is 19 now and lives with Henderson and her husband. He has trouble controlling his anger and will disappear for days at a time, she said. He never finished school and does not have a job. Henderson said he rarely speaks to her. "Austin will never be the same," said Henderson. "They took his life away from him. I think now he just tries to forget what happened." The church school loophole An investigation of Restoration Youth Academy in 2012 by the Mobile Press-Register found that multiple school employees had criminal records. Prior to joining the academy in Prichard, Knott was a drill instructor at a similar troubled-teen boot camp in Lucedale, Mississippi, that was plagued with lawsuits and allegations of abuse and torture. It was eventually closed. Restoration Youth Academy and Saving Youth Foundation were affiliated with churches pastored by Young. As church schools, they were exempt from state regulation or oversight. The state kept no records on them. State law didn't require they file any registration papers to show that they existed. Alabama law (Code of Alabama 16-1-11.1) says state regulation of any religiously affiliated school would be an unconstitutional burden on religious activities and directly violate the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment. State law also says the state has no compelling interest to burden nonpublic schools with licensing or regulation. While Alabama does have a few basic reporting requirements for private schools, it exempts those that are church schools in every instance. Teachers do not have to undergo background checks and schools do not have to be inspected. While many church-affiliated schools do choose to pursue licensing or accreditation by outside agencies, it's not a mandate in Alabama. Now retired from a 44-year career as a police officer, he has made it his mission to prevent schools like Restoration Youth Academy from operating with no oversight. The 72-year-old spends his time gathering data and contacting state and federal lawmakers, advocacy groups, law enforcement and anyone else he thinks could help change state law. "This is not a church versus state issue," he said. "The state has the right to tell these people that they can't hurt kids. They're causing these children lifelong damage and we allow it." He said, "If I get these children declared as domestic animals, I could get them protection I can't get them as human beings," said Kennedy. 'Pray nobody got killed' All of the students interviewed told of boxing matches at the school. Knott or one of the other drill instructors would frequently force two cadets to box each other, sometimes in the middle of the night. Students said the fights were often mismatched by design, pitting a small boy against a much larger boy. Neither had the option to refuse. "They'd have the bigger kid beat the [expletive] out of the other kid," said Greenfield, the boy who spent two months in isolation. "They'd make us form a big circle. You can't get out and you can't get back in. "They would always have somebody, normally me, pray before we'd have the boxing match. Will (Knott) told me to pray nobody got killed. I was like, really? You're the one making them fight. "So I would never say 'die' in the prayer; I'd pray nobody gets severely bashed up." Physical abuse from Knott, Young, Moffett and other instructors was common at the schools, according to Greenfield and others. In this file photo from Friday, April 6, 2012, John Young, director of Restoration Youth Academy and William Knott, youth director, show the chow hall. (Press-Register/Victor Calhoun)Anna Claire Vollers   "Basically everything revolved around a beating," said Angelina Randazzo, who was sent to the Prichard school when she was 14. "They made people kneel on rocks to cut up their knees. Made people be out in the sun all day, out in the mud, didn't give anybody water. I've gotten shoes thrown at me, hit in the face, thrown at a wall." Greenfield bears scars on the backs of his ankles he said are from being forced to wear shackles. "They would handcuff and shackle us, kids who were at risk of running away or harming another person, and make us wear it all day," he said. "They handcuffed this one kid to his bed." Destani Pakrovsky remembered the shackles, too. She was sent to the academy when she was 13. "There was a 10-year-old girl, she'd have to wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and get (physical therapy) three or four hours before school. They made her wear shackles the entire time she was there," said Pakrovsky, now 19. "They'd give her the top bunk and yell and laugh at her if she wasn't getting in it fast enough. She was overweight and they'd make fun of her for it. It was really hard to watch." Turning a blind eye In the absence of concrete evidence of abuse at the schools, investigators were left with the students' word against the instructors'. The students were "troubled teens" and many had strained relationships with their parents or guardians. Students interviewed by AL.com said if they tried to tell anyone about mistreatment at the school, the instructors would call them liars. In 2012 Knott told the Press-Register that complaints of abuse were inevitable when dealing with troubled youth: "They are going to say anything they can to get away from here." "It's crazy that all the cops are hearing basically the same story from all these kids and these people got away with it because they used the troubled teen excuse," said Randazzo. "No one was successful in trying to get justice ... They just said 'they're troubled teens, trying to manipulate.'" Many students were from out of state. The students who spoke with AL.com said their parents and guardians found the schools through online searches. Beds in the Solid Rock Ministries youth residential facility on Spring Hill Avenue near Ann Street in Mobile in this file photos from March 11, 2015. (Sharon Steinmann/ssteinmann@al.com) Sharon Steinmann   "These people recruit children from out of state," said Kennedy. The motivation, he said, is to keep parents in the dark and out of easy reach. A parent who suspected abuse by instructors would have to be willing to make trips to Alabama to try to find out the truth and to pursue any criminal complaint or civil claim. For all practical purposes, said Kennedy, "Their chance of being prosecuted is zero." Once Kennedy began visiting the compound and collecting statements from students alleging abuse, he contacted various agencies about the alleged abuse. According to Kennedy, the Prichard police, the district attorney's office and the Department of Human Resources all investigated the academy when it was in Prichard, but concluded there was no evidence of abuse or neglect. In 2012, Knott showed the Press-Register two letters from DHR that indicated the school had been investigated and cleared. "All of these responsible people should have stepped forward to say 'What is happening here?' And they did nothing," he said. "They knew the evil going on out there and yet they turned a blind eye." Pakrovsky recalled a time when a local TV news crew came to do a story on the school. "An hour before they came, Will (Knott)had us practice the whole routine like we were really disciplined," she said. The routine involved standing and moving about in perfect lines. During the holidays, when some students' parents would visit, "(School leaders) would completely change the way everything worked," she said. "Down to the tiniest detail they would change everything. And we had a little bit of freedom so it looked like we were having the greatest time." Mental and emotional abuse According to Restoration Youth Academy's website, each child received "weekly counseling with a licensed certified counselor on a regular basis." The Press-Register's 2012 investigation found that the school's counselor, Aleshia Moffett, was not on record at any of the four Alabama agencies that license counselors of at-risk youth, nor did she have credentials from the National Board for Certified Counselors. "She used everything you told her in confidence to embarrass you," said Randazzo, who said she had to meet with Moffett regularly. "She made me stand up in front of everybody and made them scream at me, call me a slut. "She had other staff members call me names and basically treat me like [expletive] thinking it would teach me a lesson. "Not only did they try to embarrass and hurt these kids with their own insecurities," said Randazzo, "but they made sure everybody laughed and threw stuff at them. If you cried, it was over. You were going to get beat up and thrown in the (isolation) room." Pakrovsky, meanwhile, said the restrooms had no toilet paper, which meant students had to ask instructors for it. She remembered one 10-year-old boy who started to smell bad and the instructors made fun of him. He smelled, she said, because he wasn't cleaning himself after using the toilet. He was too scared to ask for the toilet paper. Pakrovsky said she avoided most of the physical abuse at the school by always doing what she was told. But the mental and emotional abuse was impossible to escape, she said. "I lost my personality. At one point I just stopped talking unless it was absolutely necessary," she said. "It was like the last few months I was there, I was just a blank person. I didn't have anything going through my mind. It was like a survival thing." She remembers the instructors playing mind games with the students, ordering them to do something and later asking them why it hadn't been done. "A lot of it was emotional abuse," she said. "They would make us question whether we were sane or not." Learning lessons John David Young stands in the classroom at the Saving Youth Foundation youth residential facility in Mobile on March 11, 2015. (Sharon Steinmann/ssteinmann@al.com)Sharon Steinmann   The educational component of Restoration Youth Academy and Saving Youth Foundation involved the students sitting at desks and filling out workbooks from the ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) curriculum, a self-instructional Bible-based program. "No teacher taught you a lesson," said Randazzo. "You had to teach yourself." There was one facilitator, who Randazzo and Pakrovsky remember as being kind, who was responsible for helping all of the students in every grade level. Pakrovsky said she once told her mother over the phone that she didn't think she was learning anything at the school. Moffett grabbed the phone from her, she said, told her mother she was lying and then told Pakrovsky what to say to her instead. Because neither Restoration Youth Academy nor Saving Youth Foundation were accredited, they could not issue diplomas that would be recognized by any of the state's two- or four-year colleges. Students transferring into public K-12 schools would have to rely on the discretion of school officials for grade placement because the boot camp's unaccredited ACE credits would not transfer. After Greenfield left the academy, he was sent to live in Florida. Based on his age, he should have been in 10th grade but his Florida school placed him in seventh grade based on his educational ability. Speaking up Randazzo spent 18 months at the academy before running away when she was 16. When she and another girl saw a staff member occupied with another student, they ran out the door and climbed over the fence. They spent four or five days on the streets in Prichard. She was eventually picked up by the police and returned to her parents' home, where her relationship with them deteriorated further. She used drugs heavily, including heroin, and drug addiction led her into prostitution. "I wanted to take my own life," she said. "This place left such an emotional scar on me to the point I wanted to take my own soul because this place took my soul." She was diagnosed with depression and PTSD, and spent time in and out of rehab centers until she was 18. Now 19, has been clean and sober for a while and is working to put her life back together, she said. Greenfield, now 17, has found a support system in another state after spending the majority of his teen years in religious boot camps and foster programs in Alabama and Florida. He's finishing school now and has post-graduation plans. Pakrovsky, now 19 and a college student, hopes to get the chance to give her testimony at the October trial of Knott, Young and Moffett. "It really bothers me that I didn't stand up for myself while I was there," said Pakrovsky, "and this is my last chance to do it." Randazzo hopes sharing her experience could make a difference for someone else. "A lot of us, we still feel like we're in a mental jail from there. We can't escape it, we haven't healed from it. A lot of us got arrested, put in rehab, were out on the streets because nobody wanted us anymore and everybody thought we were crazy. A lot of us didn't make it to freedom." Source: http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2016/06/former_students_share_harrowin.html
Child abuse victims testify in group home trial by Jasmine Williams Tuesday, January 10th 2017 Share Video Share Video 00:00 00:00   MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) — Mobile county jurors heard from child abuse victims today in the Saving Youth Foundation case. Three of the facilities operators are on trial right now in Mobile, charged with 14 counts of felony aggravated child abuse charges. Jurors saw images of an isolation room today were investigators say teens would be locked for days at a time. all at the hands of the facilities owners. John Young, William Knott, and Aleshia are accused of abusing teens at the Saving Youth Foundation in Mobile. The facility was associated with the church Solid Rock Ministries. Prosecutors say troubled teens were voluntarily sent there by parents all over the country. Last year, the state removed 15 girls from their building on Sullivan Avenue and 21 boys from their Springhill Avenue location. Investigators say they excessively used isolation, physical restraints, and extensive excerise as punishment. Prichard police first investigated the operators of this facility five years ago, when it was called Restoration Youth Academy. Testimony resumes tomorrow morning with more witnesses from the state.  Source: http://local15tv.com/news/local/child-abuse-victims-testify-in-group-home-trial
Leaders of religious Alabama boot camp get 20 years in prison for child abuse 1 / 18 Saving Youth Foundation religious boot camp for troubled teens Isloation rooms in the boys' barracks, where students would be kept for days or weeks at a time as punishment for infractions. The founder and two teachers at the Saving Youth Foundation were convicted in January 2017 on multiple counts of aggravated child abuse relating to punishments and conditions at the religious boot camp for troubled teens. (Courtesy of the Mobile County District Attorney's Office) Anna Claire Vollers Print Email By Prescotte Stokes III | pstokes@al.com Press-Register Email the author on February 22, 2017 at 10:59 AM, updated February 22, 2017 at 11:45 AM 720 shares All three leaders of the religious Alabama boot camp Saving Youth Foundation for troubled teens were given 20 year prison sentences for their role in the child abuse incurred on children under their care. Mobile Circuit Court Judge Charles Graddick issued the sentences in front of a filled to capacity courtroom on Wednesday morning. The leader of the church, Pastor John David Young, 55, received a 20 year sentence to be served concurrently for each of the five counts of aggravated child abuse he faced. Ads by ZINC The other school leaders, boys' instructor William Knott, 48, and girls' instructor Aleshia Moffett, 42, both received 20 year sentences to be served concurrently for each of the three counts of aggravated child abuse imposed by state prosecutors. Assistant District Attorney Keith Blackwood recommended a 20 year sentence before Judge Graddick gave his ruling. He said that he feels justice has been served for the teens whose lives were forever changed by the treatment at the church. 3 convicted of abuse at religious Alabama private school Some potential witnesses attempted suicide. "Whatever their intentions were when they started turned into something completely reprehensible and these children were horribly abused and a 20 year sentence is appropriate in this case," said Blackwood. During the sentencing, Judge Graddick said that if the defendants had taken the initial 10-year sentence offered by the district attorney's office he may have considered their lawyers recommendations for probation or a diversion program. But, after hearing the horrific testimony about the treatment from several teens that were part of the program he felt differently. "I can't imagine being a child and being taken from my home in the middle of the night, shackled and transported across the country and being forced to work," said Graddick. "Some of the testimony seemed more in line with the treatment we've heard done to inmates in Guantanamo Bay." Former students share harrowing stories of life inside Alabama's worst religious private school "A lot of us didn't make it to freedom." Family members and parishioners of the church stormed out of the courtroom after the ruling. "No, I don't want to talk to you all now," said one woman to reporters in tears. "All the time we were trying to do something good for those children you all never came." Capt. Charles Kennedy, Alabama Coordinator for HEAL (corrected from article--author has been notified of need for correction), was present for the trial and sentencing. He was one of the first to witness the treatment of the teens after a parent brought the issue to his office in June of 2011. "As an Alabamian this insulted me," said Kennedy. "We can't say anything about third world countries when we are allowing this kind of thing to happen here everyday." The defense attorneys for each defendant told Judge Graddick they plan to file a written notice of appeal for today's ruling.  Source:  http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2017/02/religious_alabama_boot_camp_le.html
 U.S. The Harrowing Story of Life Inside Alabama's Most Sadistic Christian Bootcamp By Art Levine On 3/2/17 at 8:00 AM 03/10/17 In the Magazine Solid Rock Ministries in Mobile, Alabama. Three officials from the church’s program for troubled teens were convicted in January 2017 of aggravated child abuse.Mobile County District Attorney's Office U.S.AlabamaChristianity Close It was October 2011, and Captain Charles Kennedy, a veteran policeman, was in the main office at the Restoration Youth Academy (RYA), a Christian home for troubled teens in Prichard, Alabama, when he caught a glimpse of something shocking on a close-circuit monitor: a naked boy crouching in a 6-by-8-foot isolation room as a light bulb burned overhead. Kennedy had been waiting for William Knott, the program’s manager, to return with some paperwork, and when he walked back into the office, Kennedy asked about the boy, whose name he later learned was Robert. He wanted to know what the boy had done to deserve such treatment. Knott, a squat, powerfully built ex-sailor, calmly explained his rationale: “He’s got an attitude. He’s only been there for a day, and he’ll be there for another day or two.” “Can’t you give him some clothes?” Kennedy asked. But Knott offered only a vague answer. Kennedy had been investigating RYA for little more than a week, spurred by a few complaints by parents of kids in the program. RYA’s executives had promised parents “hope for their teenagers’ future, when hope doesn’t seem possible,” as its website declared. And many were grateful for that. “I was scared I would find my son hanging from a rope or dead from a needle,” says Leslie Crawford, from South Portland, Maine, who paid $1,500 a month to send her truant, drug-­using son to RYA. The Saving Youth Foundation, like the Restoration Youth Academy before it, portrayed the organization as deeply religious and a final hope for parents with troubled teens, but victims of the center say it was mostly sadistic torture and caused many to suffer from PTSD. Newsweek Illustration But what Kennedy had found behind the school’s forbidding metal gates disturbed him. He’d come after hearing from two mothers who were alarmed that their kids had been facing severe punishment. Knott had provided a tour of an empty classroom inside interconnected mobile homes and an adjoining cafeteria filled with quiet, unsmiling children. Afterward, he had allowed Kennedy to speak alone with one of the boys whose mother had called him. That’s when he learned firsthand about the teenagers’ accusations of abuse. As he investigated, he found that many of the school’s “cadets” were afraid to talk. But those who did left Kennedy with the impression that he had stumbled across something terrible. The boys, for instance, told him they were often grabbed out their beds in the middle of the night and forced to fight one another until one was beaten to a pulp. All of them were subjected to a brutal, daily regimen of exercises, sometimes stark naked—pushups, jumping jacks and running in place. Drill instructors, including Knott, frequently punched them, choked them and body-slammed them as they worked out. On his first day in the program, one boy claimed, Knott crouched down next to him, and, after yanking his head up by his hair, started pounding his skull against the floor while shouting, “You will exercise until I get tired!” Another told Kennedy he had been held upside down in shackles and hit with a belt, an allegation later supported by an eyewitness letter by another teen. (Newsweek has either provided anonymity to the minors in the program or changed their names to protect their privacy.) Kennedy wanted to protect the cadets from abuse, but he also knew he lacked the hard evidence needed to make an arrest. So for the next week or so, he periodically returned to RYA, which is how he found himself with Knott, asking about the naked boy named Robert in the isolation room. The officer was concerned. The United Nations considers the use of solitary confinement as punishment to be torture. But the police officer knew what he’d just seen wasn’t illegal in Alabama if it took place over a relatively short time span. He also knew these institutions bar the young people they control from unmonitored communication with family and outsiders—and most states, including Alabama, don’t even protect workers who report child abuse from being fired. The result: Abuse isn’t reported until long after it was committed, which makes prosecutions nearly impossible. As Kennedy continued checking on Robert, the boy eventually told him about his stay in isolation. Knott and the school’s founder, John David Young Jr., the pastor of Solid Rock Ministries in Mobile, were frustrated by Robert's “poor” attitude and persistent depression while in solitary confinement; and they were determined to change his behavior. So after days in solitary confinement, they dragged him from the isolation room to Knott’s bedroom, where Knott handed the boy a .380 automatic pistol. "If you're so determined to kill yourself,” Knott said, “you should put the gun next to your head and pull the trigger.” “I pulled it, and it went click,” Robert told the officer. Kennedy was appalled. He immediately confronted Knott and Young about this sadistic bit of theater, but they didn’t deny the boy’s accusation. In fact, Knott went to his nearby bedroom and returned with the gun and placed it Kennedy’s hand. “I was just teaching him a lesson,” he said. “I knew then I was dealing with crazy people,” says Kennedy. “You don’t do that to a human being." But the insanity had only begun. The boys' barracks at the Saving Youth Foundation (SYF), which had boarded up windows and isolation cells. Like the Restoration Youth Academy before it, the SYF was billed as the last hope for teens with drug addiction and mental illness. Mobile County District Attorney's Office Whippings, Beatings and Alleged Rapes Today, in the United States, there is a multibillion-dollar industry for residential treatment—one that sells an illusory promise to desperate parents: Your children’s addictions and mental health problems can be cured with a relatively quick (and usually expensive) fix. Yet the potential danger of abuse and neglect is a real threat for many of the 200,000 to 400,000 young people trapped in the nation's poorly monitored secular and religious "group care" facilities, "troubled teen" residential schools and unlicensed treatment programs. Too often, critics say, these programs profit off the misery of emotionally troubled kids, substance abusers or just misbehaving youth, as well as their parents, who struggle to deal with kids they can’t control. “These are throwaway children,” says Jodi Hobbs, the president of the nonprofit group, Survivors of Institutional Abuse. “They are looked at as dollar signs, not as individuals.” One of the most common types of private programs for errant youths are the virtually unregulated religious schools, many of which push fundamentalist Christian beliefs and employ violently harsh discipline against enrollees. Inspired in part by the programs of a fiery Baptist radio preacher, the late Lester Roloff, purveyors of these programs have been exposed for whippings and beatings and accused of rape. Perhaps the largest alliance of such ultraconservative churches is the far-flung Independent Fundamental Baptist organization with thousands of churches nationwide and numerous boarding schools that cite the biblical importance of breaking the will of the child. “If you're not bruising your child,” a pastor declared in a 2007 sermon captured by ABC News’s 20/20, “you're not spanking your child enough.” Related: For decades, child abuse was allegedly covered up in Brooklyn's Hasidic community  The template for these schools is Roloff's Rebekah Home for Girls in Corpus Christi, Texas, which he created in the 1960s and that became the centerpiece of a chain of religious reformatories. Roloff’s program involved vicious corporal punishment and locking kids in isolation rooms where his sermons were played endlessly. Over more than two decades, the controversial preacher was arrested a few times and his Rebekah school relocated to various states in part to sidestep any state laws mandating oversight, such as one in Texas requiring inspection of all child-care facilities. Yet Roloff faced few consequences, even though one lawsuit featured affidavits from 16 girls saying they were whipped with leather straps, severely paddled and handcuffed to pipes. “Better a pink bottom than a black soul,” Roloff famously declared at a 1973 court hearing. Other boys were locked away in isolation rooms for days. Young’s school is one of many unregulated programs across the country that employ extreme fundamentalist teachings and harsh discipline. Mobile County District Attorney's Office The stern spirit of Lester Roloff lives on in the resistance by church leaders—often abetted by local politicians—to any government oversight under the guise of separation of church and state. Nine states, including Florida, Alabama and Missouri, have wide-ranging “faith-based” exemptions protecting various church programs and schools from direct government oversight (while 26 states have no requirements for any private schools, religious or secular). Regulations in the U.S. are so loose that controversial organizations are rarely sanctioned despite allegations of rampant abuse. Some programs such as Teen Challenge, the world’s largest fundamentalist treatment chain for adults and youth, are often subsidized by taxpayer dollars—despite many public accusations of abuse and neglect. (Over the years, Teen Challenge has denied any wrongdoing or misconduct.) As Kennedy says of the nation’s unmonitored religious programs: “They’re hiding behind a cross, but there’s for damn sure evil going on.” ‘I Was in Shock’ After he spoke to Robert, Kennedy knew he had to move quickly. So in early 2011, he returned to RYA for a final round of confidential on­site interviews. Arriving after dinner, Kennedy thought he’d be allowed to speak to the boys privately in Knott’s office. Instead, the RYA manager led him to the shower area where Knott told Kennedy he could interview the boys. To the officer’s surprise and discomfort, each boy entered and sat across from him completely naked to answer his questions, while Knott stood nearby to watch. Kennedy was suspicious, but only later did he learn the full purpose of the stunt; as an RYA cadet, William Vargas, explained in a letter to the officer: “After Captain Kennedy left, Mr. Will [Knott] told everyone to write a paper saying that Captain Kennedy wanted to see us naked, and make Captain Kennedy look like a pedophile.” Kennedy conducted his final interviews, then went to his chief, Jimmy Gardner, who gave him permission to present his findings to the Mobile County District Attorney, Ashley Rich and her chief investigator, Mike Morgan. But from the beginning, Kennedy sensed something was awry. So when the chief gave Rich and Morgan a briefcase with documents from the case one day in the fall of 2011, Kennedy stopped him, and asked to make sure everything was inside. What he discovered left him even more jaded: Half of the documents were missing. Kennedy went down to his car, and retrieved copies of everything intended for Rich, then briefed her and Morgan on what was going on—the forced fighting, the isolation cells and shackles, the beatings of naked boys. After Kennedy made his presentation, he says Rich coolly responded: “Parents need to be more careful where they send their children.” “I was in shock,” Kennedy says. Morgan, speaking for the district attorney’s office, doesn’t recall Rich making such a statement. The teens enrolled in Young’s program said they were subject to numerous beatings and forced nudity, among other things. Yet it took years for the authorities to arrest the pastor and his associates. Mobile County District Attorney's Office Rich sent Morgan to RYA to investigate; there, he insists, he conducted confidential interviews. But Kennedy says some of the boys told him Morgan mostly talked to them when Knott was around or were too petrified to speak honestly. Kennedy’s hunch was right; the district attorney took no further action. The officer isn’t the only one who felt like Morgan and Rich should have done more. Karin Bazor, a former instructor for the RYA girls who quit in disgust in 2012, says she later went to Morgan with evidence about abuses at the facility, “He looked at me like I was crazy and said it’s impossible to prosecute someone [whose program is] under a church covering.” Morgan declined to answer questions about this accusation. Giving up hope that local law enforcement would handle the problem, Kennedy next turned to local Child Protective Services and its director, Beth Nelson. In a meeting with her on November 21, 2011, he says he laid out all he knew—the documents backing up the allegations of abuse and a long, detailed list of witnesses to contact. Nelson, in turn, agreed to visit RYA. However, Kennedy says she gave the facility’s leaders two-days’ advance notice of her investigation. She found no signs of abuse, and two subsequent Department of Human Resources (DHR) investigations didn’t either. Better a pink bottom than a black soul. Even so, after Nelson conferred with Alabama’s DHR Commissioner Nancy Bruckner and Morgan, they reached an initial decision to close down Restoration Youth Academy on November 28—apparently based on Kennedy’s concerns, even though they didn’t substantiate them. Yet the two changed their minds after talking to Young and Knott the next day; they didn’t want to face the cost, liability and logistical hassles of removing nearly 50 endangered kids, according to Kennedy. (Local and state DHR officials declined to comment on any aspect of their RYA investigation. I was unable to reach Nelson for comment.) Kennedy was infuriated, and called Nelson to protest. To no avail. “There is more concern about chickens on a poultry farm in Alabama than for children!” he says. Captain Charles Kennedy, a local police officer, spent years alerting public officials to what was going on at Young’s school, but says his pleas were dismissed. Captain Kennedy ‘Their Parents Don’t Vote Here’ But Kennedy didn’t give up. He started writing detailed letters to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and other state officials outlining the rampant abuse at RYA. All the while, he was adding new victims to his list of people to contact. Yet his efforts mostly led to more of the same. Early in 2012, Kennedy says the attorney general’s chief investigator, Tim Fuhrman, brushed him off after he’d done an on-­site investigation that didn’t confirm Kennedy’s claims. Fuhrman apparently didn’t try to contact many of RYA’s former cadets or their families who were willing to speak about the program’s horrors, a point confirmed by some of the victims. “Nobody ever called me or cared, except Captain Kennedy,” says one parent. On February 3, 2012, Kennedy says he got a call from Fuhrman, who told him the attorney general had determined the case wasn’t worth pursuing. “These children are from out of state and their parents don’t vote here and I don’t want the churches mad at me,” Kennedy says Fuhrman told him in regards to Strange’s views. In a letter, Strange denied making such a statement, speaking for himself and his office: “The quote attributed to me via Chief Investigator Fuhrman is not true. A potential victim’s residency has no impact on our investigation actions. The record of prosecution by this office clearly demonstrates a strong stance against the abuse of any child. The allegation that my office did a ‘superficial job’ is unsupported and unfounded.” The bathroom in the boys' barracks, where students would be kept for days or weeks at a time as punishment for infractions. Mobile County District Attorney's Office Frustrated, Kennedy turned to the local newspaper, the Mobile Press-Register, as a confidential source. In March 2012, a story appeared about “questions” regarding RYA, but it focused, in the top section of the article, only on the lack of licensing for the program and its counselor, Aleshia Moffett. The article mentioned in a vague way the “rough treatment” cited by one of the victims. After that story appeared, the issue faded amid the drastic layoffs at the state’s major newspapers of two-thirds of their editorial staff. For the next two years, even after he retired from the force, Kennedy continued writing letters, trying to get Alabama authorities to stop the abuse. But state officials continued to ignore his pleas. ‘They All Knew’ In March 2015, Kennedy was about a year into his retirement and working on developing a disability rights lawsuit against RYA, which Young shuttered and had since started a facility in Mobile under the name the Saving Youth Foundation in order to avoid a recent spate of negative attention. He was rushing to keep an appointment with the lawyer, when he drove past the ramshackle boys’ home. Yellow crime scene tape and police cars surrounded the facility, and Kennedy’s heart sank. "I thought for sure someone had been murdered,” he says. After his meeting, the former officer wheeled around and headed back to the facility, fearing the worst. When he pulled up next to the building, he saw the Mobile Police Department chief, James Barber, whose face looked deathly pale. “What's happened?” Kennedy asked. “Have they killed somebody?” “No, but I can't believe they haven't,” Barber said. A veteran of nearly three decades of police work, Barber began recounting the unimaginable scenes of horror inside—the isolation cells, the shackles, the frightened children—the same awful conditions Kennedy had been warning officials about for years. If you're so determined to kill yourself, you should put the gun next to your head and pull the trigger. Barber’s department had learned of these horrors from a mother who lived out of state and had picked up her daughter from the facility’s girl’s program in Mobile. Horrified about what she saw there, she took photos of the isolation rooms on her cell, then called the police in Mobile. In March 2015, the detective on the case, Sergeant Joe Cotner, referred the complaint to the local DHR for a child abuse investigation, and the new team there—Nelson had retired—took the allegations seriously. A DHR-­led raid a few days later rescued 36 children. As he stood outside, talking to Barber, Kennedy sensed a real opportunity to finally win some measure of justice for abused children. A few days later, the now-retired police captain began briefing Cotner on the case, handing him all the files he’d been keeping in the trunk of his car. Finally, after four years of trying to stop Knott and Young, he had an ally in law enforcement. Knott, Young and Moffett's booking photos. Mobile County District Attorney's Office ‘Did You Hear About the Verdict?’ After the March raid, the Mobile police and DHR shut down the Saving Youth Foundation, and with Kennedy’s assistance, the police arrested Knott and Young along with Moffett, the counselor, on charges of felony child abuse several months later. The trial began in January 2017, and Kennedy anxiously attended all four days of the proceedings. But as a potential witness, he couldn't sit inside the courtroom and instead relied on a cousin, among others, to brief him on what was happening. On the final day, when the jury left to begin deliberations, the fatigued crusader drove home for a break. It was 5 p.m., and he was sitting on his front porch, when he got an urgent call from Leslie Crawford, the mother in Maine who had also long fought for Alabama law-enforcement to crack down on RYA. “Did you hear about the verdict?" she asked him excitedly. It had only been two hours since the jury left, and Kennedy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The jury, she explained, had convicted Knott, Young and Moffett on all counts of aggravated child abuse, the maximum charge. Kennedy was ecstatic. He asked her to repeat the verdict again to make sure he’d heard correctly. Not only had he been personally vindicated, but the people he’d been fighting against were finally going to prison. As he put it in an email to friends and supporters: “All of the monsters were convicted!” Despite the convictions of Young, Knott and Moffett, many of the teens who suffered at their schools continue to struggle with the trauma they experienced. Mobile County District Attorney's Office ‘The Blood of Children’ On February 22, Kennedy felt a similar sense of elation when a Mobile judge sentenced Knott, Young and Moffett each to 20 years in prison. But his feeling of triumph and vindication is tempered by the fact they got away with it for so long. “They all knew,” he says of the government agencies that ignored his pleas, “and they did nothing.” It’s a pattern that continues to this day. Neither the long prison sentences nor the shuttering of the brutal facility have fundamentally changed oversight of such programs in Alabama—or anywhere in the country. Over the past 20 years, the Mobile effort against Knott, Young and Moffett remains one of a handful of arrests and prosecutions for physical abuse allegations at any youth treatment facility in the country. Other unmonitored religious and secular troubled teen facilities in Alabama and elsewhere continue to operate with impunity, generally protected by the indifference of local and state police, prosecutors and child protection agencies. “We’ve received thousands of police reports,” but relatively few have led to prosecutions, says Angela Smith, the founder and national coordinator of the Seattle-based Human Earth Animal Liberation advocacy group, better known as HEAL. Now 73, Kennedy is trying to close other facilities. Most recently, he’s briefed the district attorney’s office in Baldwin County Alabama about troubling abuse allegations at a facility in rural Seminole called Blessed Hope Boys Academy, which is run by pastor Gary Wiggins. In September 2015, a gay teenager who had been imprisoned at RYA before the March raid was then shipped to Blessed Hope by his mother; in a police report, according to a detective familiar with the document who asked to remain anonymous because it’s a juvenile case , and in conversations with Kennedy, the teen charged that Wiggins had assaulted him, declaring beforehand, "I'm going to get the demon out of you and make you straight.” In December 2016, DHR officials and county police raided the place in response to escapees’ complaints of solitary confinement and hours-long exercise sessions, leading 22 students to be sent back home. Thus far, however, Kennedy’s pleas for prosecution have been ignored. “Once again, Alabama law enforcement has failed to protect children.” he says. (Wiggins said of the charges: “It’s lies, all lies,” before hanging up.) Kennedy is equally outraged that former state Attorney General Luther Strange has been appointed a U.S. senator to replace Jeff Sessions, the new U.S. attorney general. “He [Strange] threw the children under the bus so he could grease the way for his political ambitions,” Kennedy says. “All these politicians have lined their pockets with the blood of children.” Since the convictions, law enforcement and other public officials such as Morgan and Strange have begun trying to discredit Kennedy, using his final interview with the boys against him. While Kennedy says Knott forced the boys to take off their clothes—and the evidence from Vargas and others supports him—Knott told state and local investigators otherwise. Some officials such as Morgan and Strange now claim that’s in part why they failed to act—even though they’ve long been aware such charges are bogus, Kennedy says. “We had questions about the way Kennedy conducted his investigation,” Morgan told me, citing the naked interviews—something the former officer says is not true. Kennedy says Luther Strange, the former state Attorney General, “threw children under the bus” for political gain. Strange denies the charge. Mario Tama/Getty Meanwhile, the horrific legacy of Knott’s program lives on, and many of the young people who went through the program remain severely damaged. Among them: Erin Rodriguez, now 18, once a pill-­popping runaway in suburban Atlanta before her father sent her to RYA and later to the Saving Youth Federation until she was freed in the 2015 raid. “They would whip me,” she says. “They stripped me to my underwear and bra and took out a belt and hit me until I bled.” Back home trying to rebuild her life, she still has nightmares about her experiences at the facilities. Robert, the teen who was told to put a gun to his head, is still struggling, too. After being released into the custody of his grandparents in a small Texas town, he continued to unravel. He’s been arrested twice on drug charges. The latest incident occurred in the fall of 2016, when police found the traumatized, suicidal youth sitting by his mother’s grave with a gun and some illegal drugs. They arrested him, and despite pleas from Kennedy that he needed mental health treatment, they sent him to jail where he remains today, unable to afford bail. The traumas these young people face is why Kennedy continues to fight against abuse. “One of my greatest satisfactions is knowing that these children who suffered so much at their hands know that justice has been served in some way,” he says, but “you can’t return the youth that was stolen from them, you can’t restore the mental and physical damage that was done.” Adapted from Mental Health, Inc.: How Corruption, Lax Oversight, and Failed Reforms Endanger Our Most Vulnerable Citizens, by Art Levine. Copyright © by Art Levine, 2017. Scheduled for publication in May 2017 by The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., www.overlookpress.com. All rights reserved. Read more: A retired police captain reveals how his 5-year investigation and letters from abused teens led to the conviction of three counselors in a "Christian" boot camp. Interview with Capt. Charles Kennedy conducted by Angela Smith of the HEAL Project.

 

 Last Updated: March 2nd, 2017

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