Lawsuit Claims Physical, Sexual Abuse At Juvenile Detention Center in Vermont Occurred for Years

Administrators and staff used abusive tactics at a juvenile center in Vermont

At least seven individuals have filed a lawsuit over abuse at the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center and Middlesex Adolescent Center in Vermont, which closed last year amid concerns over dangerous conditions and poor treatment of children who resided there.

The most recent complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont on December 13, pursuing claims against Vermont state officials and former staff members at the facilities.

According to allegations raised in the abuse lawsuits, juveniles detained at the Woodside Juvenile Facility and the Middlesex Adolescent Center between 2016 and 2020 were subjected to “obscene abuse at the hands of state officials who were charged with their care and supervision.”

The lawsuit indicates the children were regularly physically, mentally, and sexually abused by their caregivers, only to be sent to the facility to be physically and sexually assaulted yet again. In addition, many were often confined to isolation cells in the facility’s infamous “North Unit” for days, or even months at a time.

The juvenile detention center, once located near Essex, closed in 2020. By the end of its run, the 30-bed facility often went unused, and was accused in an earlier lawsuit of treating children with disabilities inappropriately through the use of restraints, and long periods of isolation.

This latest lawsuit names 22 people as defendants; all current or former employees of the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF), including the former commissioner of the DCF, Kenneth Schatz, and former director of Woodside, Jay Simons.

The lawsuit notes that state investigators informed state officials about the abuse in October 2018, primarily focusing on stories of children forcefully stripped of their clothing by staff members, and confining them to isolation cells for “days, weeks, and sometimes months at a time.”

In August 2019, a federal court ordered the institution to stop its abuse and isolation of detained children, but the lawsuit indicates the abuse never stopped.

“Even though the court ordered a halt to the abusive tactics developed by Jay Simons for use against Woodside detainees, the abuse of children by DCF staff members then continued at a different facility in Middlesex, Vermont,” the lawsuit states. “An internal investigation into the assault of one of these children in April 2020 revealed that Woodside/Middlesex Adolescent Center Director Simons was actively ‘sabotaging’ the implantation of a different crisis management system in an effort to prove that ‘what they were doing [before federal court intervention] was good.’”

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of seven of the detained children who allegedly endured the abuse. However, one of them died in October due to an accidental drug overdose. Her estate was established for “the sole purpose of pursuing justice in her memory,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit presents claims of cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, violations of plaintiffs’ rights to due process, violations of their First Amendment rght to petition the government for a redress of grievances, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional harm, gross negligence, and reckless supervision.


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