Mothers Say Boy Scout 'Boot Camp' Subjected Kids to Litany of Abuses
LOS ANGELES (CN) - Two mothers say a Boy Scouts "boot camp" subjected their children to "corporal punishment and other physical abuse, including blows to the head ... emotional and psychological abuse and humiliation," hooding, and denial of sleep, food, water and medical care - even after one child began urinating blood.
The mothers say their children also were "improperly restrained as a form of punishment."
In a Superior Court complaint, the mothers say camp staff concealed their children's injuries and told their moms to ignore the complaints, saying the kids were "just trying to get out of the program."
Rosa Chavez and Elvia Villanueva sued the Boy Scouts of America, its subsidiaries Learning for Life and 180 Recon, and camp supervisor Edgar Alvarado.
The women say they each paid about $800 for their children to attend a disciplinary camp known as "180 Degree Recon."
They say they "sent their children ... to defendants' 'boot camp' with the intention of instilling discipline in them and improving their behavior. Defendants represented to Chavez and Villanueva that their children would be doing 'a lot of exercises' but would not be harmed."
But "both [children] were made to participate in military-style exercises and rigorous physical training, without receiving any type of physical examination or clearance from a physician for participating in such a rigorous and physically taxing 'boot camp' program," the complaint states. "Both minors were pushed beyond their limits physically and were denied adequate sleep, food and water. Both minors were subjected to corporal punishment and other physical abuse, including blows to the head and body. They were also subjected to emotional and psychological abuse and humiliation. Finally, both minors were also improperly restrained as a form of punishment."
Villanueva says her 17-year-old son "was taken from his home on June 25, 2009 by defendant 180 Recon. He was handcuffed and a bag or mask was placed over his head, and he was struck numerous times. 180 Recon took [him] to a home and made him sit there for several hours, with the bag or mask remaining over his head to prevent him from seeing where he was. He was subsequently taken by bus to the boot camp for three days."
She adds: "During this three-day period [her son] was denied adequate sleep and was forced to participate in physical exercises. When he said he was unable to participate, he was verbally and physically assaulted, mostly by other minors who were encouraged by 180 Recon staff to berate participants who could not keep up. He was hit and punched in the face, head and body. He was forced to drink large quantities of water all at once and when he could not finish, the remaining water was poured over his head. Despite the fact that [he] suffers from asthma, he did not have access to his inhaler while participating in the exercises and training.
"[The boy] began urinating blood and informed the staff of 180 Recon. No medical personnel were available onsite to evaluate his condition, and the staff, including defendant Alvarado, did not think [the boy's] condition required medical attention. Instead, they forced him to continue participating in the program."
When the defendants did send the boy home, he was "in a weakened state and was still urinating blood, but 180 Recon did not inform Villanueva of [his] injuries or of the fact that he had received no medical attention. Instead, 180 Recon affirmatively represented that [he] was fine," his mother says.
Chavez says her 13-year-old daughter suffered similar abuse at the defendants' camp. She says the girl "was taken to the boot camp and allowed only three hours of sleep before being awakened for a 21-hour day of exercising accompanied by physical and verbal abuse. She was made to drink a large container of water, the unfinished portion of which was poured over her head. She was made to crawl on her hands and knees across dirt and rocks. Her hair was pulled as a punishment for not following directions. Older minors, 16 and 17 years old, were placed in charge and two of them also punched and hit [her] in the face and stomach. At one point her wrists were tied up to restrain her."
Chavez says the defendants did not tell her her daughter had been hurt, tied up and had received no medical care.
The mothers say camp staff warned them their children might complain of pain and of being injured or abused, but said the mothers should ignore them, because they were "just trying to get out of the program."
Both moms say their children were hospitalized with severe abrasions, headaches and acute muscle damage. They were kept in the hospital for several days to prevent kidney failure and infection, according to the complaint.
"These injuries were severely exacerbated by the lack of on-site medical care and by the delay in receiving medical treatment as a result of defendants' concealment of the minors' injuries," the mothers say.
They say the "defendants maintained a staff of only six adults at the boot camp to supervise 70 minors. The minors, most of them with significant emotional and psychological problems, were left to supervise other minors. The entity defendants maintained no on-site medical personnel and provided the staff with no training in the identification of medical or mental health issues that might require immediate evaluation and treatment."
The moms add: "In fact, defendants' 'boot camp' was understaffed by individuals who did not understand the limits of the minors in their care with regard to excessive exercise, and these individuals were not trained in any meaningful way in the care of minors. The adults in the boot camp regularly left minors in the care of other minors who had been sent to the boot camp because of disciplinary problems - some with criminal records."
The mothers say the defendants "knew or had reason to know that defendant Alvarado regularly subjected his campers to emotional, verbal and psychological abuse."
Alvarado pleaded no contest to misdemeanor child endangerment and abuse after hospital personnel alerted social workers and the Los Angeles Police Department, according to the complaint.
180 Recon director Edgar Alvarado told Courthouse News in an interview: "Parents come to me because they can't deal with their kids and then they want to blame somebody else when the camp turns out to be too physical."
Alvarado said that Villanueva's son "was an habitual drug user when his mother came to me. She told me that I could 'do whatever I needed to do to.' I told her that wasn't the way the camp worked. While it's hard work, we just want to give the kids structure."
Alvarado said that 180 Recon helped "many families" and it would be a "shame if a few people ruined that."
The mothers and children seek compensatory and punitive damages for battery, infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, negligence, civil rights violations, premises liability, breach of contract, fraud and violation of California's Business and Professions Code.
They are represented by Maria Cavalluzzi.