Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1998

Five Are Indicted in Arizona Youth Camp Death
By Julie Cart

An Arizona grand jury on Thursday indicted five former employees of Arizona Boys Ranch, charging that the four camp workers and a staff nurse were responsible for the March 2 death of a Sacramento, Calif., boy at the paramilitary-style boot camp for juvenile offenders.

The indictments by the Pinal County, Ariz., panel were the first criminal charges in the seven-month old case, which has brought about legislative changes, stricter licensing and oversight guidelines and has all-but closed Boys Ranch, a 50-year-old juvenile rehabilitation facility with a national reputation.

The employees charged were among those who worked most closely with 16-year-old Nicholaus Contreraz, who died while being physically punished. The boy was cleared for rigorous exercise, despite repeated complaints to the nurse that he was ill.

Indicted were camp nurse Linda Babb, and four ``work specialists'' -- Geoffrey Sean Lewis, Montgomery Clayton Hoover, Michael Martin Moreno, and Troy Michael Jones. Four of the defendants live in Tucson, Ariz., Hoover is from Sierra Vista, Ariz. Each was charged with one count of child abuse and one count of manslaughter, and faces a maximum penalty of 12.5 years in prison for each count. Arraignment was scheduled for Oct. 23.

Officials at the Queen Creek, Ariz.-based program had no comment Thursday. In the past they have characterized Contreraz's death as a tragedy and blamed it on the actions of a few employees who were then suspended.

Child rights advocates and others were outraged by the case -- the second death at the ranch, which has had more than 100 child abuse complaints lodged against it in the last five years.

Contreraz had been sent to the camp after stealing a car and running away while in custody. The slender teenager spent the last week of his life complaining of chest pain and difficulty breathing, but had been identified by the staff as a malingerer and punished more when he complained. When the boy sought medical attention for his condition, the camp nurse repeatedly sent him back out with approval to engage in the stringent exercise required of troublesome juveniles, according to a sheriff's report.

His condition worsened and he began to defecate on himself and vomit frequently. Among the indicted staff were those who belittled the youth, made him sleep in soiled underwear, made him eat dinner while sitting on a toilet and ordered him to carry a trash basket filled with his soiled clothes and his own vomit.

He eventually collapsed and died. The medical examiner ruled Contreraz died of empyema, a buildup of fluid in the lining between his lungs and chest cavity. He was also suffering from strep and staph infections, pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. The coroner noted 71 cuts and bruises on the boy's body.

The FBI is continuing its own investigation of the death.

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