Boy in coma after scuffle at camp for troubled youths
San Francisco Chronicle, By Ken Hoover, Chronicle Staff Writer, February 13, 1992

A l6-year old San Francisco boy is near death in a Reno hospital, where he was taken in a coma after a scuffle with the staff members at a camp for troubled teenagers in the remote Nevada desert.

Nevada law enforcement officers are investigating whether the staff used excessive force in restraining Paul Choy, who is on a life support system. They also are investigating whether he was sexually assaulted.

As a result of the February 4 incident, San Francisco probation authorities have removed three other boys from the camp, operated by a firm called Rite of Passage, pending an investigation. However, county officials said eight youths remain at other facilities operated by Rite of Passage.

Rite of Passage is an 8-year-old company whose president is Jim McKenry, a one-time chairman of the Nevada state Democratic Party, according to company officials.

It has a program for 240 boys who have committed crimes and failed in other rehabilitation programs. The program stresses athletics.

Twenty-five California counties send youths to the facility on the Walker River Paiute Tribe Indian Reservation near Schurz, Nev. The firm also runs a high school training camp and seven group homes.

Rite of Passage has a controversial past. In l986, it came under fire from Representatives George Miller, D-Martinez, and Harry Reid, D-Nev., who charged it was unlicensed and was under investigation because of allegations of youngsters being physically and sexually abused.

Nevada officials cleared the camp of charges.

In l990, the camp sued Mineral County in Nevada for repeatedly sending investigators to the camp to look into complaints of mistreatment or inadequate care.

Mineral County District Attorney Craig Jorgenson said the suit was settled when the county agreed to make no further unannounced visits and the company agreed to forward documents relating to any complaint to state officials for review.

"We've had no complaints in the four years we've been using it." said Judy Hogan, a San Francisco probation official. "There have been no reports of physical abuse, and there's been some real success stories of youths who have not done well in other programs and who have gone there."

She said the city pays $3,508 per month for each boy in the program.

She said county officials visit the company's remote desert training camp monthly to check on boys' progress and look over the premises.

However, some counties will not send their youngsters to the camp.

"We weren't happy with the supervision." said Ed Jimison, a probation official in Countra Costa County, which discontinued using Rite of Passage several years ago. "It was out of state and hard to supervise. The physical facilities were not all that good."

Choy became combative and two staff members, who were not identified, restrained him in a technique District Attorney Jorgenson described as something like a full Nelson. [Emphasis added]

After about l0 minutes, Choy's breathing became labored and saliva formed around his mouth. The staff members stopped restraining him, and with the help of other staff members, administered CPR until an ambulance and helicopter arrived more than a half-hour later, said Jerome Sprout, a company vice president.

Choy was first taken to a hospital in Fallon and later to Washoe Medical Center in Reno, where a nurse trained to identify signs of sexual abuse observed rectal injuries consistent with a sexual assault, Jorgenson said. [Emphasis added]

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