By JONNY BONNER
Read Full Article @ Courthouse News Service
SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – A private prison that calls itself an academy locked up teenagers, “sadistically and verbally” beat them down, and forced them to go barefoot in winter, four teens claim in court.
Tyler Weber, Tracy Sarno, Janet Yelding and Janaye Kearns sued Diamond Ranch Academy on Dec. 3, in Federal Court.
They claim that Diamond Ranch, a self-styled “troubled teen” boarding, reform and alternative school, promised them a “supportive, safe, healthy, camp-like setting with regular and productive therapy/counseling.”
Weber and Kearns separately attended Diamond Ranch. Sarno’s and Yelding’s experiences are not detailed in the lawsuit.
Weber and Kearns say they were forced to work in 100-degree weather without protection and insufficient water, deprived of shoes and sufficient clothing in winter, and repeatedly ordered to dig deep holes and refill them.
They claim they were kept awake until midnight and made to get up at 4:30 a.m., tackled and sat on by staff “for punishment for some perceived slight,” and made to sit facing walls “for any reason or no reason.”
“The staff sadistically and verbally beat down everyone, and the bullying was excessive,” the 20-page complaint states. “Groups of captives were pitted against other groups for the amusement of staff. Although some staff members were more kind and helpful and willing to become friendly, they never mustered the courage to correct the sadistic staff members who enjoyed wielding the power over Mark and Devin, along with all of the others.”
Parties listed in the complaint do not include a Mark or a Devin.
“At Diamond Ranch Academy, there was no forum for complaint, explanation, appeal, or grievance against the placement, before, during, or after it occurred,” the complaint states. “The only option available to the hapless youth there confined was to ‘fake it in order to make it,’ for Diamond Ranch Academy is a lock down, closely guarded private prison, where punishments are harsh for any rule infraction, real or instigated by the Diamond Ranch Academy staff for their amusement.”
The plaintiffs say Diamond Ranch’s “extravagant fees fraudulently suggest great expertise and cloak its staff’s minimal credentials and multiple mistakes.
A website from “Diamond Ranch Academy Survivors” (www.drasurvivors.com) harshly criticizes the place.
For example: “Diamond Ranch Academy is not a legitimate treatment facility and their methods are unethical, illegal and abusive. Please, do not send your child to Diamond Ranch Academy.”
The site calls the “therapeutic” treatment program, based in Hurricane, Utah, “The Devil’s Ranch,” adding “Out in the middle of nowhere … hot, desolate and miserable.”The school did not respond to a request for comment.
Diamond Ranch states on its website: “Our students become their best selves in a structured elite private school environment with a personalized therapeutic approach.”
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for fraud, false imprisonment and child abuse.
They are represented by Thomas Burton.