Investigator | Physical abuse, sex alleged at NE Ohio drug center for teens

The Investigator: Physical abuse at N.E. Ohio treatment center

Lynne Komar thought her son would get help when he was sent to a drug treatment center outside of Mansfield.

“Connor came out worse,” the Parma mother said.

She said her son, Connor, 17, received very little counseling for his marijuana use.

Instead, she alleges, the teen was physically abused by staff at Abraxas Ohio, a center owned by the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S.

“Connor got shoved a lot at Abraxas, he got pushed into walls…they restrained him with whatever restraints they had on four different occasions,” she said. “They tackled him, punched him...made him stay in his room for three days straight.

“To see your son being at a place where he is supposed to get help and here he’s getting abused, it’s heartbreaking.”

Former counselors and staff at Abraxas have come forward since WKYC Channel 3 News first reported allegations of misconduct earlier this month.

The former employees allege Abraxas does little drug counseling, however, some staff manipulate progress reports and notes to collect millions of dollars in Medicaid payments.

"I've been saying for years they're not doing treatment. They have people out there who will just watch cameras all day and delete footage," said Tim Batdorf, a former counselor at Abraxas Ohio.

Several former workers contend that physical restraints are “commonplace” and often done in so-called “boom-boom rooms” outside the range of security cameras. On occasion, boys were grabbed, lifted and dropped onto the floor.

“Restraints were pretty much a daily basis,” said Batdorf. “The attitude of getting in a kid’s face – that was commonplace out there…[Staff] purposely instigated fights with these kids.”

Abraxas houses about 100 teenaged boys, most sent from juvenile courts throughout Ohio and neighboring states. Many of the teens come from poor families and Medicaid pays for their counseling and treatment that often lasts three to six months.

A GEO Group spokesman denied any wrongdoing. They are currently embroiled in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former Abraxas employee.

 “These allegations do a disservice to the many dedicated employees who work hard every day to provide services for at-risk youth. Our youth programs adhere to strict standards set by state agencies and are frequently monitored to ensure that we meet state regulations,” said Pablo Paez, vice president of corporate relations.

“Additionally, our youth programs are accredited by The Joint Commission – an independent organization that accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 health care organizations and programs in the U.S."

Another former Abraxas worker, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said he’s aware of six co-workers who left the facility after engaging in sexual conduct with residents.

“It took place out in the parking lot, took place outside, took place in offices,” he said. “Staff knows where the cameras are.”

 He agreed that little counseling was taking place and that the use of restraints and physical confrontations – oftentimes in violation of policy - were rampant.

“It was overboard at times,” he said.

He said he’s aware that some documents were altered to conform to government regulations.

“They say they don’t falsify reports. Well I have reports that say different,” he said. “Taxpayers are getting ripped off. It’s all about money to them. All about how much they can make.”

© 2017 WKYC-TV


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