Wyoming Boys’ School denies allegations of abuse and neglect (2024)

The Wyoming Boys’ School, Wyoming Department of Family Services and several current and former Boys’ School staff members responded Monday to allegations of abuse with a court filing of their own — roughly 60 pages of denials.

Three former Wyoming Boys’ School residents sued the defendants in February, claiming they were subjected to several forms of abuse, including extended periods of solitary confinement.

In their response, filed shortly before the court-determined deadline, the state agency and its named employees denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

The Boys’ School is a state-run facility near Worland, whose male residents — ages 12-21 — are court-ordered into the facility’s custody for a range of crimes.

Solitary confinement

In their filing, defendants wrote more than 50 times that the facility does not use solitary confinement.

The response acknowledged that the Boy’s School did put residents on “detention status” or “out of community status,” but argued that neither match the plaintiff’s definition of solitary confinement.

As noted in the initial lawsuit, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care defines solitary confinement as “the housing of an adult or juvenile with minimal to rare meaningful contact with other individuals.”

The new filing confirms details of the single-occupancy “detention rooms”: 8-by-10-foot spaces with concrete floors, cinder-block walls, mattresses that are often removed during the day, no furniture, cameras and a light controlled from the outside.

Some of the defendants also confirmed that a resident wasn’t allowed to “freely converse” with other dorm residents unless a “resident mentor” was assigned to them, or permission was requested and granted.

Restraint chairs

Defendants acknowledged that the plaintiffs were occasionally strapped to a restraint chair. They denied, however, that the use of restraints was excessive or done in a way that “could impose serious psychological pain and suffering and physical injuries.”

They acknowledge that plaintiff Charles “Rees” Karn was placed in a restraint chair and diagnosed with a soft tissue strain in his right hand and wrist.

Prison or treatment?

The defendants deny that the Boys’ School is a residential treatment facility, despite a description on the Boys’ School website that may suggest otherwise.

“Defendants deny that the website is accurate as to ‘focusing on psychological/ emotional stability’ and ‘mental health therapies,’” the filing states.

Yet, the filings states that “a court has committed each resident to the Wyoming Boys’ School for reformatory and rehabilitative programming based on considerations specified in the Juvenile Justice Act.”

The defendants also deny that the plaintiffs in their care were “children with disabilities.”

Elsewhere the filing acknowledges that facility staff knew about the three plaintiffs being diagnosed with several conditions before being sentenced to the Boys’ School, including ADHD, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, impulse control disorder, schizencephaly and cerebral palsy.

The defendants also say they knew plaintiff Dylan Tolar had to wear a leg brace “for medical reasons.”

In the complaint, Tolar accused Boys’ School staff of restricting use of his brace, causing long-term damage to his leg, and of calling him a “slow zombie” and “clown.” The plaintiffs also accuse staff of illegally excluding Tolar from educational opportunities due to his disabilities and locking him alone in his room for hours.

In their response, defendants deny that they withheld the brace, but assert that it broke a few times — an issue that, the filing asserts, was addressed by maintenance staff. Staff did impose “lower body physical training restrictions… due to concerns that the leg brace might break again,” according to the defendant’s response.

Defendants also denied that plaintiff Blaise Chivers-King attempted suicide at the Boys’ School or that Karn tried to do the same in front of staff on his second day at the facility.

Monday’s filing also acknowledges some positions at the Boys’ School don’t require experience working with children.

How we got here

Two years ago, WyoFile and the Casper Star-Tribune investigated an increase in violence at the Boys’ School. Superintendent Dale Weber, a defendant in the lawsuit, told the publications that, following the report, he required all staff to be trained on trauma-informed, trauma-responsive approaches to troubled kids, which he says has helped.

Weber told WyoFile he blamed COVID-19 for the Boys’ School earlier struggles, noting a decrease in the use of restraint and isolation in 2023.

There was a rash of violent incidents and an increase in restraint and isolation at the Boys’ School a few years ago, Wyofile and the Star-Tribune found. While information on those incidents was difficult to obtain via the Department of Family Services — citing juvenile privacy laws — public reports showed police were visiting more frequently to help. Those calls had previously been rare, law enforcement officials said at the time.

Legislation passed in 2022 aimed at shoring up that knowledge gap, requiring a more standardized collection of juvenile justice data. But those requirements don’t go into effect until July.

The three plaintiffs in this case were all at the Boys’ School during the spike in violence.

Karn was arrested for strangling his girlfriend to death after he left the Boys’ School. At his sentencing, his public defender mentioned his time at the facility as taking a “serious toll on his mental health and may have negatively impacted his ability to improve.”

Also on the docket

Defendants also filed a partial motion to dismiss Monday, saying that the individuals being sued in this case can’t face repercussions under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act cited by the plaintiffs — only the facilities and agencies can.

Defendants also stated they’d want to be awarded costs incurred and “further relief as the court deems proper.”

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

This story was posted on May 1, 2024.

Wyoming Boys’ School denies allegations of abuse and neglect (2024)
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