The Arizona Republic, March 7, 1998

Boys ranch death faces CPS probe
Abuse claim leveled

By Karina Bland

State Child Protective Services has launched its own investigation into the death of a teenage boy at the Arizona Boys Ranch after hearing an allegation that he was abused.

James Hart, a deputy director at the Department of Economic Security, which oversees CPS, said someone called the child-abuse hotline on Thursday and made the claim.

He would not identify who called, citing state confidentiality laws.

On Tuesday, Boys Ranch attorney Kaja-Anne Jezycki told CPS officials that an internal investigation found no wrongdoing by staff members. And reports released Friday go further, detailing a struggle between Boys Ranch staff and a combative boy who refused to take part in exercises, threatened staff and bit people trying to restrain him.

Boys Ranch officials have not commented publicly on the incident, and did not return phone calls Friday.

CPS will coordinate its investigation with the Pinal County Sheriff's Department, starting early next week.

''At this time, we haven't come up with anything, but that the boy did have a medical problem and we don't know to what extent until the autopsy is complete,'' said Detective Ed Schweitzer of the Sheriff's Department. He did not elaborate.

The autopsy results should be complete in about two weeks.

Nicholas Contreraz, 16, of Sacramento, stopped breathing Monday at the Boys Ranch's Oracle facility and was flown to Northwest Medical Center in Tucson, where he was pronounced dead.

CPS released transcripts Friday of two telephone calls and a written report about the incident from Boys Ranch officials. The three reports give three versions of what happened.

On Monday at 10:33 p.m., a Boys Ranch official left a voice mail message to DES saying that Contreraz simply stopped breathing during ''recreational activity.''

But Tuesday, Peter De La Rambelje, manager of the Oracle facility, told DES licensing manager Wayne Wallace via telephone that Contreraz had been uncooperative all afternoon, refusing to work or even to walk.

De La Rambelje reported that Contreraz defecated on himself and two staff members helped the boy shower. Afterward, they told him to do some type of calisthenics.

It was then that Contreraz collapsed, De La Rambelje told Wallace. De La Rambelje reported that the staff members had no physical contact with the boy.

But a written report by Boys Ranch officials, dated March 2, gives the most detailed picture of Contreraz's last day:

That morning, Contreraz worked with other boys on a construction project. ''His performance was positive and without incident,'' the report says.

In the early afternoon, Contreraz talked on the telephone with his probation officer in California, who told the boy he would have to stay at the Boys Ranch for some time longer, the report says.

Afterward, staff members told Contreraz to pick up leaves. He refused and lay on the ground. Because Contreraz would not walk, a staff member carried him.

Contreraz and other residents were told to do exercises. When Contreraz refused, two staff members put him in isolation in a barracks.

Contreraz again lay down.

''As the staff continued to encourage Mr. Contreraz to do exercises, he grabbed a bed and pulled it toward him, striking his head on the bed,'' the report says. ''At the time, Mr. Hoover and Mr. Murphy (two staff members) placed Mr. Contreraz in a Control Position for his safety.'' The report does not give Hoover's and Murphy's first names.

A ''control position'' is a restraining hold, although how the staff members applied the hold is not described.

Contreraz threatened to kill the staff members after they restrained him, the report says. The boy bit one staff member in the leg and another in the chest, making him bleed.

When Contreraz was calm, he asked to use the bathroom. Staff members released the boy, but he defecated on himself before reaching the bathroom.

The staff members then carried Contreraz to his own barracks, undressed him and put him in the shower. Contreraz washed himself and put on underwear and socks but would not finish dressing.

The staff members dressed the boy and took him to the dining hall. Before letting Contreraz go in to eat, they asked him to finish exercising.

Contreraz refused.

''Staff continued to help him do the exercises,'' the report says, not elaborating as to what that help entailed.

The boy asked for water but refused to walk to get it. The two staff members carried him to the water and splashed water in Contreraz's face, the report said.

The boy did not respond. They then realized that Contreraz was not breathing.

The staff members started CPR and called 911 at about 6 p.m.

Pinal County Sheriff's Department spokesman Officer Mike Minter said the boy was in full cardiac arrest when deputies arrived at about 6:35 p.m.

He was taken to the hospital by helicopter at 7:10 p.m.

Contreraz had been examined by a registered nurse and cleared to participate in the program the same day he died, the report says.

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