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Karen J Burnett
Letter to the Editor

Disclaimer: The opinions, interpretations and recollections of the testimony of parents or other parties expressed in this Letter to the Editor are solely those of the author. By publication of this letter neither Woodbury Reports, Inc., StrugglingTeens.com. nor its employees express any opinions either for or against the parties involved.

Vidi et Scio
I saw and I Know

Karen J Burnett
Shepherdsville, KY

It is now nearly two years since I've made my first public statements about the WWASP program. It’s been a long couple of years. I have learned a great deal since that first statement and found reasons for hope as well as despair.

I would now like to comment on some highlights of the recent WWASP vs. PURE trial in Salt Lake City; which concluded with Sue Scheff being exonerated on all counts, which included defamation, conspiracy and false advertising.

This is my personal observation; what was for me most profound, or interesting. Others will naturally have differing points of view. I wasn't able to attend the entire trial, but was present all day Wednesday and Thursday. I was sorry to miss the closing arguments and verdict; but I am so glad to have been able to attend the days I did. I might as well say, right up front, for those who don't know me; I was sitting on the defendant's side of the courtroom. For a full account of the trail, you will need to read the transcripts; and I do very much hope you will do so. As I do not yet have a copy of the transcripts, where I quote testimony, I am doing so from memory.

It is such a shame they couldn't have a camera in the court room. The transcripts will be important and powerful reading, but there is no way can they convey the drama and emotion that was there during the testimony. The credibility of the parents who took the stand; and of Amberly Knight/Chirolla, as she explained her situation and knowledge, was beyond dispute and so powerful!

There are many side stories that won't be in the transcripts and I'd like to mention a few of those.

There were two Frenchmen attending, who are working on a documentary. At one point, they took to shadowing WWASP. It struck me as amusing when WWASP's attorney complained in court and said they had the FBI looking into who the Frenchmen were. In my opinion, this trial proved the FBI needs to be looking at WWASP.

At one point during his testimony Ken Kay complained that a woman was distracting him by making gestures. At first, I thought he meant me, as I had at that moment turned to get my note pad from my purse; But it turned out to be the lady sitting next to me. As she was pointed out, Ken Kay asked her why was she making gestures; She stood up and replied, "Because your lying, sir." At that point the judge gave her the boot. Of course the jury was instructed they mustn't pay any heed to what a spectator might say. I found it odd and somewhat amusing, that Mr. Kay brought such attention to the situation and asked such a question in open court.

Later in the trial, there was another situation with a spectator, that I felt was powerful, but which won't make it into the transcripts. Mr. Goodwin was on the stand, testifying to the conditions in WWASP's High Impact. A film that had been shot by the MX police was being shown; and they were going frame by frame, as Mr. Goodwin explained what the jury was seeing. He was saying for example, as he pointed to the screen, Here are the kids marching; here is the 'on the cross' position; here is the 'Indian' position. . . At this point, a young man observing the trial began to sob. He had been crying for awhile, but at this point he began shaking and sobbing. As I happened to know who the young man is, and some of his history with WWASP, I was concerned for him. The judge, very wisely in my opinion, decided to take a break for lunch. In this way, he was able to stop the trial, and exit the jury, with no extra attention drawn to the situation. Even so, as the lawyers were gathering papers and people prepared for the brake, there was this young man sobbing, and on a large screen, the image of a boy, despondent, in the Indian position, in a dog run. There was plenty of time to take all this in before the jury was excused.

As for some of what will be in the transcripts, I think for me, the following would be the highlights.

At one point WWASP hands Amberly Chirolla, a one time director at Dundee Ranch, in Costa Rica, a copy of an email she had sent in reply to Ms. Cary Bock with the apparent intent of impeaching her testimony as to when she 'met' Sue Scheff. They asked her if she remembered writing it, and she said she did; she then asks if they'd like her to read the third paragraph. NO, he snapped - just answer the question - Did you write this? There was a line about how if Carey wanted to pursue claims of abuse against WWASP, she should maybe contact other parents and suggested she get in touch with Sue. WWASP wants to know, dose she remember writing that? Amberly at first seemed puzzled and said she remembered the post, but didn't recall knowing Sue at that time. Then she says, "Oh I do remember! I do! This wasn't a reference to Sue Scheff, but to Sue Flowers!"

On re-direct, the first thing they had her do was read the third paragraph. It had to do with her fear of speaking out, due to WWASP threatening litigation. She was asked to explain that, and was able to explain how they hush people by threatening to sue them; that she had been so threatened. It also enabled them to talk about who Sue Flowers is. Also, Dundee's fall and her letter to PANI came in.

At one point, while WWASP had Sue on the stand, they brought up a recent negative article about a program PURE has referred to. The judge appeared not to be pleased with this move, and allowed many of Sue's documents that had been excluded, back in. Sue had many documents that had been excluded because WWASP wanted to keep the case centered between certain dates. The judge told them if they were going to bring up something that happened two weeks ago, then they were going to have to allow Sue to present what she had up to that point. I was glad of this, as I suspect the documents included many parent's statements, including my own.

I was often struck by WWASP's harassment of the parents who testified. For example, Fred Silvester, WWASP’s attorney, was asking Mr. Goodwin, a father whose son was in WWASP’s High Impact, about a comment made having to do with going to look around the "school". In what appeared to me to be a sharp, sarcastic tone, he asks, "And what did you see?" I guess maybe he thought Mr. Goodwin would say, happy kids soaking up knowledge! Mr. Goodwin responded, "Well, I looked in one door and saw a girl sitting with a three inch strip of duct tape across her mouth." Silvester’s back went stiff, as he drummed his fingers on the podium; Then he waves his hand at Mr. Goodwin and snaps, "You just made that up, didn't you?!"

"NO I did NOT just make that up!" was Mr. Goodwin's adamant reply.

It was powerful.

It was during Mr. Goodwin's testimony about High Impact that I learned some things I had not been aware of before. He explained how the staff used cattle prods to terrify the students and keep them in the stress positions. It was either maintain the position, or get a jolt from the cattle prod. They would strike the ground and create a discharged by the kids' heads, so they would know the prod was hot.

He talked about his son being restrained; really more of a violent take down; with no warning and for no reason; where he hit the ground so hard his bottom teeth went clean threw his lower lip. He was made to lie in the 'on the cross' position while a pool of blood spread from his face around his chin. They did later tell him it was for 'run plans'. He had mentioned to another boy, earlier in the day, how impossible it would be to escape; and that was the reason.

Mr. France's testimony was also deeply moving and beyond any dispute. He gave testimony about the tiny, cold and bare room his son was kept in for nearly 9 months, while in a WWASP program. The room is known as "the Hobbit." He drew a depiction of the room and explained the wood shelves his son had been made to sleep on. He was able to do this with accuracy, as he has a photo of this room. He knows it was the room his son was kept in, b/c his son wrote his name on the edge of the wood shelf, as well as, Let Freedom Ring, on the wall. He talked about the extreme cold in this unheated room during the Montana winters. He explained how an orange his son had tried to stash away, froze over night. He testified to the extensive dental work his son has needed as a result of having his mouth injured while in this WWASP program. In response, WWASP attempted to cast blame on Mr. France's parenting; As if what happens to his son, while in their program, was his fault. This is also what they tried to do to Mr. Goodwin.

I found myself wondering, where is Their Accountability? Why can they not admit these are horrible things that never should have happened, and apologize? Then do whatever it takes to be sure these things cease? Personally, I suspect if they made the needed changes, the program would not be The Program; and so they must continue to deflect and deny and minimize, if they are to continue at all. In other words, in my opinion, the abuse and neglect are an important aspect of WWASP’s method of behavior modification.

Lastly, some of Ken Kay's testimony just floored me. For example, he was shown a page from a WWASP handbook listing what constitutes abuse by staff. One rule was, striking a student; open handed or with a fist, was abuse. He said he wouldn't agree with that. It depended. When pressed, he agreed that according to the WWASP handbook, it was abuse.

Another rule was sexual contact with a student is abuse. He said it depended. Yes, the hand book says that, but it depended. He explained one has to keep in mind the kind of students they have. They are troubled, disturbed teens. That's why they are there, he explained. So, sex might be consensual. Apparently, in Ken Kay’s mind, consent negates abuse. The fact that he is talking about captive, troubled students, consenting to sex with staff, who have control over every aspect of their lives, is of no consequence. It seems to be his view, that yes means yes, no matter the circumstances.

When asked about a specific situation at Jay Kay's Tranquility Bay, where this very thing occurred, he explained that he had gotten a complaint from the father. He had talked with the student who said it was consensual. That was it. He did not talk to the staff member. He made no report. Filed no complaint of any kind. In other words: Nothing was done. He seemed to think this was OK, according to the testimony I heard while I was observing the trial.

Do you?

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