Lawsuit Against Powell-area Youth Ranches Details Abuses
Routinely denied access to restrooms or latrines, resulting in them urinating on themselves and then being ridiculed.
Three women and one man who attended the Trinity Teen Solutions, Inc., and the Triangle Cross Ranch, LLC, respectively when they were "troubled teens" recount abuses including forced labor, malnutrition, sleep deprivation, unsafe working conditions, and denial of using restrooms leading to urinating on themselves, according to the class action lawsuit they filed through their attorneys in Wyoming U.S. District Court on Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges violations of federal law about forced labor, human trafficking, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). It also alleges emotional negligence on the part of the facilities and 17 other defendants.
The former residents are seeking millions of dollars in compensation for unpaid wages, compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder and other economic and noneconomic damages.
Many alleged experiences were common to all plaintiffs:
-- Jail-style strip searches upon arrival.
-- Staff read all incoming and outgoing mail. Staff forced residents to re-write any critical comments about the facilities.
-- If a telephone conversation was permitted, a staff member observed the communication and could stop it at any time.
-- They were forced to write positive testimonials for use in advertising before being released.
-- They were subjected to physical, verbal, psychological and emotional abuse.
-- They were threatened with further confinement and forced labor unless they completed all chores and ranch duties.
-- They routinely would have a device placed on their foot or leg to hinder their possibility of escape.
-- They were forced to work at local churches and facilities owned by the Diocese of Cheyenne and the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, nearby ranches, and the monastery of the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel who make "Mystic Monk Coffee."
The three female plaintiffs recounted these alleged common experiences:
-- Trinity Teen Solutions operates on a six-level system, with residents needing to fulfill duties in each level before they can proceed to the next level. The lawsuit noted how new residents were told that other residents were still at the first level for more than a year.
-- Cooked for 20 people daily.
-- Shoveled manure for up to four hours a day daily.
-- Sleep deprivation.
-- Being leashed to other girls, staff members or farm animals.
-- Showered rarely more than once every three or four days.
-- Changing feminine products was a major issue as staff controlled their ability to use the restroom and would routinely deny residents the ability to change their feminine products.
--Routinely denied access to restrooms or latrines, resulting in them urinating on themselves and then being ridiculed.
-- Often subsisted on a diet of only a half a can of cold kidney beans and half a can of olives for every meal.
-- Forced to run "the hill,' which was steep, rocky and infested with rattlesnakes, causing injuries.
-- Forced to sit in a chair staring at a wall for extended periods of time.
-- Forced to wear signs around their necks containing humiliating statements.
-- Subjected to verbal, psychological and emotional abuse.
-- Former residents who spoke out publicly about their abuse were threatened with legal action, with the positive endorsements they wrote before their release used as evidence that the abuse did not occur.
-- The facilities promised education and therapy, but they received only a single weekly meeting with a counselor.
-- They received zero to two hours a day of education by way of online videos and coursework without an in-person teacher. None of their classwork was transferable to other schools.
-- Daily manual labor included mucking out livestock stalls, fixing damaged fence posts and barbed wire fences at Trinity Teen Solutions and surrounding ranches, cleaning office buildings and living areas, cleaning ranch equipment and barns, grooming animals, managing fires, splitting firewood, doing laundry, "and being forced to wash the feet of staff and other class members nightly," according to the lawsuit.
-- Without proper training or oversight, they did lambing and calving tasks normally done by experienced ranch hands. They did "preg checks" by inserting their arms elbow deep into the birth canal of livestock to check for a fetus, castrating animals, and providing medical attention to animals without gloves or proper safety equipment.
INDIVIDUAL FEMALE RESIDENTS at Trinity Teen Solutions
Plaintiff C.S. was a resident from May 2012 to July 2013, and July 2014 to October 2015.
The alleged abuses she endured included:
-- Frostbite on her fingers with ongoing capillary damage.
-- Multiple twisted ankles, ingrown toenails, lice and lacerations from falling on rocks and cacti.
-- She received no medical treatment for most of these injuries. A second ingrown toenail received medical attention six weeks after its onset, but the toenail was lost.
-- Attempted to document her injuries with a disposable camera provided by Trinity Teen Solutions staff, but the developed film showing the injuries was confiscated.
-- She cared for ranch owner's children's 4-H sheep.
Plaintiff A.G. was a resident from Feb. 2 to Aug. 1, 2012.
-- She experienced many of the same abuses as C.S.
-- She was held back from progressing through the six levels.
-- Despite telling staff she had prior ankle surgeries, she was forced to run over rough terrain for her first month until her mother confronted the staff about it.
-- Despite the ankle injury, she was forced to running heavy irrigation pipes through uneven terrain.
-- She was punished for injuries from frequent burns and cuts.
-- She suffered frequent urinary tract infections from holding her urine at night and lack of adequate showers. She was diagnosed with hydronephrosis, a condition in which the urine cannot drain from the kidneys to the bladder due to a blockage.
-- She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after her release.
Plaintiff A.N. was a resident from May 7, 2015, to November 2015.
-- She experienced many of the alleged abuses as C.S. and A.N.
-- She shoveled mostly sheep feces for multiple hours a day throughout her stay.
-- She suffered physical punishment if she failed to or refused to complete her cleaning, laundry and cooking chores before going to sleep.
-- She was designated the leader of operating the high-pressure connections of the irrigation pipes without training or supervision.
-- A staff member once denied her the ability to use the restroom at night. She urinated on herself and had to wear the urine-soaked clothes for several days before she could shower.
-- She was responsible for transporting deceased animals to the dead animal pit without any training, supervision, or safety equipment such as masks or gloves.
-- She was assigned to take all-day care of a full-sized goat for three months despite having no previous animal handling experience. The goat would often drag her, headbutt and bite her. When she told the staff about the injuries, staff members would dismiss, humiliate and belittle her.
-- Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
-- As an aside, the lawsuit notes A.N. is now a certified Child Development Association teacher who works with toddlers. She is legally required to report any allegations of abuse, and would have had to report what happened to her at Trinity Teen Solutions.
John Doe was a resident at Triangle Cross Ranch from May to December 2011.
The ranch program had two levels -- the warehouse level and the bunkhouse level.
The warehouse level consisted of uninsulated sheds with no heat sources, but had solar-powered alarms to prevent them from leaving.
They had no access to latrines and were forced to urinate in jugs. Because defecating in jugs was difficult, they defecated wherever they could.
If warehouse level residents complied with all the physical labor, they were upgraded to the bunkhouse level with better food, clothing, and heat, air conditioning and running water.
If bunkhouse level residents didn't meet the labor demands, they would be downgraded to the warehouse level.
John Doe's alleged experiences included:
-- During his transportation to the ranch, he was placed in a cement boot and forced to wear a four-point restraint consisting of a belt and handcuffs and an ankle constraints even though he was not a delinquent.
-- His forced labor included welding, mechanical repairs, running irrigation pipes multiple hours a day for six days a week, constructing a 40-foot by 60-foot irrigation steel barn with no safety equipment or harnesses, shoveling manure, feeding animals, and working for a defendant's seed business.
-- He had severe anal pain and was forced to work for months without proper medical treatment. After receiving an anal sphincteroplasty to repair the muscle tear, the ranch owners medicated him with high doses of diphenhydramine to keep him docile. He served as their personal aide during recovering.
-- Forced to subsist on a diet of insects. He and other ranch residents would eat bugs because they were so hungry. He would throw up and swallow it to make himself feel full. He went from 255 pounds to 155 pounds during his stay.
-- Physical assault.
-- Each staff member, at his own discretion, could punish him.
-- Father Daniel Schneider often would ask his father, Triangle Cross Ranch owner/operator Gerald Schneider, for John Doe and other boys to do forced labor at the monastery of the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.