Wednesday, October 10, 2007

U.S. Rep wants fed probe of Mo. boot-camp death

By Megan Boehnke

WASHINGTON -- A powerful U.S. House member called today for the Justice Department to look into the death of a 15-year-old boy at a Missouri “boot camp” in 2004 following release of a report that pointed to evidence of abuse.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the Education and Labor Chairman, asserted during a hearing that conditions in many residential treatment programs – better known as youth boot camps – are “inhumane.”

He said he hopes the Justice Department will examine the fatality at the Thayer Learning Boot Camp and Boarding School in northwest Missouri considering that no criminal charges ever were filed.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, studied the Missouri case and others for a report released on Wednesday.

The GAO said it had found thousands of allegations of abuse at the boot camps and closely examined ten cases in which teen-agers enrolled in the programs had died, including the case at Thayer.

“Ineffective program management played a key role in most of these deaths, Greg Kutz, who led the investigation, testified. Advertisement

Kutz said later in an interview that the Missouri death was “one of the worst three” of the cases.

Roberto Reyes, of Santa Rosa, Calif., had been at Thayer Learning Boot Camp and Boarding School in Kidder, for less than a week when he died after being bitten by a spider in November 2004, according to his autopsy. The Caldwell County coroner said at the time that the autopsy concluded that the death was an accident and said Reyes could have been bitten before he arrived at the camp.

The GAO report presented to the committee yesterday said Reyes had more than 30 cuts and bruises on his body when he died. The staff had interpreted Reyes’ symptoms – including falling down frequently, complaining of muscle soreness, vomiting and involuntarily urinating and defecating on himself – as rebellion.

After complaining of illness, Reyes was forced to the ground and held there on several occasions, according to the report. On one occasion, he had a 20-pound sandbag tied around his neck when he was too sick to exercise.

Reyes was placed in the “sick bay” the morning of the day he died, where a staff member checked on him mid-afternoon and found he had no pulse. The staff then called 911 and Reyes was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A state investigation found that Reyes might have survived if he had earlier medical attention and that records at the camp may have been falsified. No criminal charges were ever filed, though Reyes’ parents filed a wrongful death suit that was settled out of court for about $1 million, according to the GAO.