Ron Ackert's letter of June 19, 1998 to Dr. Linda Blessing, Director, Arizona Department of Economic Security, regarding the killing of teenager Nicholaus Contraraz at Arizona Boys Ranch

19 June 98

Dr. Linda Blessing, Director
Arizona Department of Economic Security
1717 West Jefferson Street
Phoenix, AZ 85007

RE: Nicholaus Contreraz (01/15/82--03/02/98)

Nicholaus Contreraz looked forward to his California court-ordered stay at Arizona Boys Ranch in Oracle. A Ranch representative who visited him in late December 1997, or early January 1998, in Sacramento Juvenile Hall had told him that this would be his golden opportunity to turn his life around. Nicholaus was excited because he would be able to earn his high school diploma while at the Ranch.

You see, Nicholaus Contreraz had a dream of becoming a firefighter. He wanted to help people, just like those who tried so hard in 1994 to help his dad when he was laying upon the ground in front of the family home in Sacramento, the victim of mistaken identity in a fatal drive by shooting.

After witnessing the death of his dad in 1994, Nicholaus was a little boy lost amidst tidal waves of grief and despair. A bright student, Nicholaus lost interest in his studies, so overwhelmed was he by the loss of his dad. His otherwise good common sense was eventually overruled by attempts to get attention for his psychological needs and a soul troubled by the death of his father.

Shoplifting, running away from group homes that he was placed in, and joyriding in a stolen car prompted the Sacramento County judge to tell Nicholaus and his family that Arizona Boys Ranch was his last chance before California Youth Authority commitment. All pennyante stuff when compared to the track records of most CYA inmates.

Upon arrival at the Ranch in Oracle January 8, 1998, Nicholaus never had a chance. An asthmatic, staff physician Dr. Virginia Rutz apparently prescribed Nicholaus inhalers one month after his arrival. However, he was forbidden to use them unless he had permission from Arizona Boys Ranch staff to so do. So much for prescribing medication to a kid with a chronic ailment that impacted his breathing--medication for a kid who was transported from living in a near-sea level environment to the elevation at Oracle.

The continued requests for medical attention that were made by Nicholaus because of ongoing breathing problems, perhaps initially exacerbated by the change in altitude and other environmental factors, were dismissed by Nurse Babb and all Ranch staff members whom Nicholaus trusted and believed he could rely upon for intervention when needed.

After all, the Ranch claims, even today, that "aggressive" medical intervention is provided for kids entrusted to their care and supervision.

Despite his repeated requests for medical attention, Dr. Rutz examined Nicholaus only upon his arrival January 8 and again one month later on February 8. This suggests that the Ranch provided their wards with access to Dr. Rutz only once per month, preferring that Nurse Babb apply her keen health care skills instead. When she examined Nicholaus on February 8, Dr. Rutz entered in his medical records that she could detect no signs of illness. It appears that about this time, however, Nicholaus was complaining to Ranch staff and Nurse Babb about his continuing breathing difficulties, plus persistent diarrhea and vomiting. His diarrhea was treated by Ranch staff by refusing him access to toilet facilities except for in the morning after breakfast and again during the evening hours following the conclusion of whatever "physical training" he was required to perform, or was "assisted" by Ranch staff in completing.

Although Nicholaus continued to complain of breathing difficulties, Nurse Babb and Ranch staff continued to deny Nicholaus access to competent health care, dismissing his complaints as merely attempts to get out of his program responsibilities. Nurse Babb or Ranch staff gave Nicholaus a paper sack to breathe in; claiming that he was merely hyperventilating. Ranch staff further responded by turning up the heat, ordering him to perform more physical training exercises. Nicholaus was also forced to drop his pants so other Ranch wards could inspect him to see if his uncontrollable bowels had again soiled his clothing. Nicholaus was also given a small trash container to carry with him everywhere he went. It contained clothes that had been soiled when his bowels let loose and, eventually, his vomitus.

As his vomiting became more frequent, the aggressive medical attention provided Nicholaus by Ranch staff was an order to vomit in the small trash container containing his excrement soiled clothing; increased physical training exercises; and further humiliation by Ranch staff, including having to do pushups so his head went inside of the container holding his excrement soiled clothing and vomitus.

On February 27, 1998, Nicholaus Contreraz was allowed to telephone his family. His grandmother, Connie Woodward, told E.J. Montini of the Arizona Republic that "There were ranch people on the line with Nick, on a speaker phone," Woodward says. "They said he hadn't eaten in a week. I said, 'My God, how much weight has he lost?' 'They said he was a strong, healthy boy, and not to worry. They said they wanted him to do 10 push-ups and when he wouldn't do it, they took his arms and legs and forced him. Stuff like that."

"I asked Nickie, 'What's the matter, babe?' and he couldn't put sentences together. I guess he didn't have the breath. He said, 'Wanna die. Wanna be with dad. Too hard.' "

She also says Contreraz told her, "Chest hurts bad." (Arizona Republic, 4/19/98)

Nicholaus's mother, Julie Vega said that throughout this last conversation the family had with him, Nicholaus was also coughing uncontrollably.

The family of Nicholaus Contreraz trusted that Ranch staff would see to his medical needs whenever necessary. They had been told that Arizona Boys Ranch would be a good environment for him. The court wouldn't send their son, nephew and grandson to a place that wasn't safe, would it? Surely the Sacramento County Probation Department would not agree to the referral if there had been past incidents at a place so far away.

Despite their involvement in this conversation with Nicholaus and his family, Ranch staff continued to deny Nicholaus access to competent health care, even after he complained to his grandmother that his "Chest hurts bad."

Or that he had signaled his will to live had been broken: "Wanna die. Wanna be with dad."

Thus began the slow, three-day shutting down of his body. The statement made by Nicholaus on February 27 of wanting to die was not one of suicide, rather it was his recognition that he was dying at the hands of his caregivers and hoped that the torture he had been enduring would come to an end. Besides, Nicholaus had no need to commit suicide; he had come to the realization that his caregivers were killing him, "Why are they doing this to me?" He just wanted it to be over with.

On March 1, and again on March 2, 1998, Nurse Babb continued to deny Nicholaus access to competent health care. She claims she could not detect signs of illness despite his obviously compromised respiratory efforts, vomiting, persistent diarrhea, and weight loss that would total approximately 20 pounds at the time of his death during the early evening hours of March 2, 1998.

There was ample time to prevent his death by seeking competent medical intervention for Nicholaus following his complaints the morning of March 2, of being unable to breathe and experiencing pain in his chest and all over. However, Ranch staff and Nurse Babb continued their denial to him of competent health care. Instead, he was subjected to further humiliation in front of his peers.

Ranch staff claims that on March 2, 1998, they had to physically restrain and punish Nicholaus due to "aggressive" behavior. He may very well have been aggressive. With the ability of his lungs to oxygenate his blood now so severely compromised, his brain and body were starved for oxygen--but there would be one last, futile attempt to survive.

Throughout his last day, the will to live tried one last time to exert its dominance through the desperate attempts made by Nicholaus to be referred for competent medical evaluation and intervention. But once again, the desperate pleas made by Nicholaus for medical help were met with impossible demands made of him by Ranch staff to perform more physically demanding training exercises. After all, his efforts at acting sick were so good; Nicholaus was told on this, the last day of his life, that he "deserved an Academy Award."

At approximately 1:00 PM on March 2, Sacramento County Probation Officer Don Berg talked with Nicholaus on the telephone. Most certainly Nicholaus advised Mr. Berg of his breathing difficulties. Most certainly Nicholaus begged for help. Most certainly Mr. Berg could hear those difficulties as Nicholaus gasped out his words and gulped for the oxygen his body and brain were now so starved for. Had Mr. Berg chosen to do so, he could have accessed the local EMS system in Pinal County from his location in California. If Ranch staff claimed to Mr. Berg that Nicholaus was merely acting in an attempt to avoid his program responsibilities, as they most surely must have done, it was incumbent upon Mr. Berg to look out for the best interests of his client, Nicholaus Contreraz.

Following Nicholaus's conversation with Mr. Berg, Ranch staff, instead of summoning competent medical assistance, required him to perform even more physical training exercises. Ranch staff was rewarded when Nicholaus vomited and again defecated upon himself. Statements made by some Ranch wards indicate that he was not allowed to clean himself or change clothing. It can only be presumed for what reason. However, a scenario suggesting that he was being punished for telling his Sacramento County probation officer that he was ill is quite likely. One needs only to look at how his medical needs were met by Ranch staff following the conversation with his family three days earlier to draw such a conclusion.

Less than two months after turning sixteen, at approximately 5:30 P.M., Nicholaus Contreraz collapsed from the effects of his physical and mental torture for the last time. When ordered to get up, he responded "No," the last word to ever come from the mouth of a confused and troubled teen; a sixteen-year-old boy harboring dreams of helping other people when he grew up. Dreams that he and his family believed Arizona Boys Ranch was going to help Nicholaus to realize.

We know from witness statements, that following his final collapse on March 2, two Ranch staff members picked Nicholaus up, one on either side supporting him under his arms, and carried him in such a way that his toes dragged along the ground. How long Ranch staff dragged Nicholaus like this before attempting to force water in his mouth is unknown. What does seem apparent, is that when Ranch staff finally dragged him to where they attempted to force water in his mouth, Nicholaus had already gone into cardiorespiratory arrest.

Finally agreeing to get Nicholaus medical attention when they couldn't get a response from him, Ranch staff accessed the local EMS system; medical attention Nicholaus should have had in mid-February--medical attention that may well have saved his life had it been summoned at almost any time during his last day alive; medical attention he certainly would have received if Mr. Berg had honored his professional and fiduciary obligations to Nicholaus Contreraz following the conclusion of the 1:00 PM telephone conversation of March 2, 1998.

The autopsy performed by the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office described the lung and chest cavity infections as having "had been present for at least weeks prior to his death," and that Nicholaus was otherwise "a well developed and well nourished" boy. The medical examiner also noted 71 cuts, abrasions and contusions on Nicholaus's head, face and body.

Arizona Boys Ranch took the finding that Nicholaus was "well developed and well nourished" as a way of attempting to minimize the circumstances that existed in their house of horrors at Oracle: "We hope that when the family receives the facts, they will be relieved and realize Boys Ranch staff did their best to revive Nicholaus."

The only realization the family of Nicholaus Contreraz can have is that he is dead; that Nicholaus died while in the care and custody of Arizona Boys Ranch; that Nicholaus died as a result of the mental and physical abuse he received from Ranch staff; that Nicholaus died because he was deliberately denied access to competent medical treatment by Ranch staff and Nurse Rabb; that the physical appearance of Nicholaus in death was so horrific, pictures had to be placed in his casket in order for people to know what he really looked like; that had Nicholaus Contreraz been treated like a human being while at Arizona Boys Ranch, efforts to revive Nicholaus at sunset on March 2, 1998, would not have been necessary; and that he most certainly would be alive today, still dreaming of becoming a firefighter in order that he could help other people, were he not in the care and custody of Arizona Boys Ranch during the seven week period leading up to March 2, 1998.

That is the only realization possible for the family of Nicholaus Contreraz, despite the best efforts put forth by Arizona Boys Ranch to put a positive spin on the death of a sixteen-year-old boy who should be alive today; who would be alive today if not for the house of horrors in Oracle, Arizona Boys Ranch.

As for the Ranch press statement saying that it is hoped that the family of Nicholaus Contreraz "will be relieved," I doubt seriously there can ever be relief that their son, grandson, and nephew is dead, unless solace can be found in the fact that Nicholaus is no longer suffering at the hands of his 'caregivers' at Arizona Boys Ranch.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security is reviewing the application of Arizona Boys Ranch to continue its operations. Department staff and regulators should encounter no difficulty in understanding that Nicholaus Contreraz was tortured and that his death was no accident.

Additionally, the consequences of the acts and failures to act by Ranch staff, Nurse Babb; and Arizona Boys Ranch cannot be discounted by the failure of Mr. Berg to summon outside medical assistance for Nicholaus following the conclusion of his telephone conversation with Nicholaus on March 2, for Nicholaus died a torturous and needless death at the hands of his 'caregivers' at Arizona Boys Ranch.

The deliberate withholding of medical treatment; the 2.2 liters of pus drained from his chest at autopsy; the 71 cuts, abrasions and contusions that covered his body from head to foot; the blood found in his stomach; the statements made to Pinal County Sheriff's Office investigators by Ranch staff; the statements made by wards of the Ranch; all combine to paint a rather clear picture: The death of Nicholaus Contreraz was murder resulting from the deliberate denial of medical treatment by Ranch staff, Nurse Babb, and the willful neglect of Arizona Boys Ranch.

Therefore, the application for license renewal submitted by Arizona Boys Ranch should, indeed it must, be denied with prejudice, regardless of threats of additional litigation by Arizona Boys Ranch, or threats of political retribution, or intimidation.

By denying the Ranch's renewal application based upon the circumstances regarding the death of Nicholaus Contreraz and cumulative evidence of past and current wrongdoing; perhaps in death, the dreams sixteen-year-old Nicholaus Contreraz had of helping other people can be fulfilled.

Rest in Peace, Nickie.

Respectfully submitted,
Ron Ackert
Riverside, California

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