Mother sues treatment center, claims son was beaten, abused
By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune, April 22, 2005

A California mother is accusing a northern Utah boarding school of physically and emotionally abusing her son while he was being treated there.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, Jennifer Havlan said Majestic Ranch employee Sean E. Coombs seriously injured her minor son by slamming him against a wall and table, throwing him to the ground and striking him. She also alleges that the boy was "repeatedly restrained and placed in handcuffs" during his 2004 stay at the Randolph facility.

Majestic Ranch, which is affiliated with the St. George-based Worldwide Association of Speciality Programs and Schools (WWASP), is designed to treat preteens and young teenagers with behavioral and conduct problems. The program has been investigated several times after abuse allegations were lodged, with one probe ending in a criminal conviction when Coombs pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor assault charge.

A school official said Thursday that she had not seen the suit. WWASP officials have said that their treatment programs have a high rate of satisfaction among clients.

But Havlan, a Newport Beach resident, is unhappy about her son's experience and alleges battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment and negligence. Her suit seeks unspecified damages.

On the same day Havlan filed her suit, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would provide more monitoring of residential treatment programs and establish criminal and civil penalties for abuse of children.

Miller, who unsuccessfully asked then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2003 to investigate allegations against WWASP, says residential treatment programs in the United States and abroad should be licensed.

"Parents are sending their children to these programs becaue of a promise that they will help resolve difficult behavioral issues, like substance abuse," Miller said in a written release about his End Institutional Abuse Against Children Act. "But the way kids have been treated at some of these facilities would make any parent shudder." [Emphasis added]

Proposed federal regulations

Federal legislation to regulate residential treatment programs in the United States would:

  • Provide $50 million in funding to states for licensing and monitoring.
  • Establish federal civil and criminal penalties for abuse of children.
  • Expand federal authority to regulate programs located overseas but run by U.S. companies.
  • Require the State Department to report any abuse of American children overseas.

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