Twenty-Five Girls Claim Abuse While At Clark Private Christian Residential Treatment Center
Earlier this week, a federal class action lawsuit was filed against Trinity Teen Solutions. The private Christian residential treatment center in Clark, Wyoming, is for girls between the ages of 12 and 17. Twenty-five girls filed the suit, saying they were mentally and physically abused while at the facility.
Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska spoke with Cody Enterprise reporter Leo Wolfson who broke the story. Wolfson has been investigating the facility since March of 2019.
Leo Wolfson: We saw reports of abuse coming in regards to the Trinity Teen Solutions facility in Clark. So I decided to look into this as much as possible and see what was available on these reports. The sheriff's office didn't have much that they could offer at the time beyond the very basics that we've pretty much already knew. So, I decided to reach out to see if I could find any girls who had been to Trinity Teen Solutions and see if their experiences there matched up with any of these reports of abuse.
Kamila Kudelska: What were the reports of abuse?
LW: Through the sheriff's office, there was nothing of any details. [It was] extremely vague. We're just reading off the blotter, basically a synopsis of kind of what I just told you. So to be able to get to see what the details were, I had to physically reach out to girls who had gone there. And that's where I ended up getting a lot more details from their experiences. There was also a 2016 lawsuit involving Trinity Teen Solutions with girls who had made disparaging comments and basically gave very negative reviews of Trinity Teen Solutions on Yelp. I was able to lock down a few of the names of the girls who were involved in that case, because the case was public at one point, even though it was settled. So it's very easy to find those names. Those girls, they basically couldn't say anything on the record because of the settlement. But they pointed me to girls that were not involved in that, who could speak.
KK: When you were reaching out to these girls, what did you find out once you started talking to them?
LW: They gave me some very strong details about some allegations. A very harsh treatment, definitely some allegations of abuse, basically, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, extremely hard labor conditions, poorly insulated living conditions, very, very strict punishments, and basically a kind of an overall encompassing mantra of using punishments to heal, to basically use punishments strictly as a lesson to improve these troubled girls lives.
KK: I'm wondering when you're reaching out to these girls, the class action lawsuit didn't come about yet, right? Because that's pretty recent.
LW: So yes, I did a huge bulk of my reporting for the story way back in March of 2019. We decided to not go forward with any of the information I had received and written at that time, because we wanted to wait until any kind of legal filings were charged. But it never happened. I really had almost pretty much given up on this ever being a public story. And then, two weeks ago, I was given notice from one of the girls that there was going to be a federal filing submitted in federal civil court regarding Trinity Teen Solutions. And then I reached out to their attorney and he verified this account.
KK: What is the class action lawsuit?
LW: The allegations and charges include two counts of forced labor and then one count each for trafficking racketeering, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
KK: What does Trinity Teen Solutions say to this?
LW: I reached out to Angela Woodward, the co-owner of Trinity Teen Solutions, and she denied all the allegations. She finds it to be a money grab. She says they've been investigated numerous times by the Wyoming Department of Family Services, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations and there's been no findings of any legitimacy to any claims now or in the these same claims that have been brought up in the past. And she's just basically saying that these are very troubled girls who have a lot of mental issues like psychiatric issues, and that there's just no substance behind any of this, and she stands behind their treatment 100 percent.
KK: Where is the case gonna go now once it's been filed?
LW: It'll be heard in Wyoming Federal Court. In all likelihood, this case is going to take years, I expect. And many people will be paying close attention to this case. I can tell you that, especially within the behavioral health and just mental health industries, Wyoming and probably nationwide as well.
KK: Why do you say that?
LW: Because the troubled teen industry is an industry I think that is one that I've seen getting a lot of attention garnered toward it in the last couple of years. As far as these allegations of abuse and allegations, of these organizations profiting off human labor and offering therapeutic help by essentially making their residents do chores. And I think it's an industry that was already a little bit under the microscope and it sounds like, at least from a lot of my sources, is kind of headed in that direction for a lot of different facilities, even in facilities far outside this Northwest Wyoming region. These facilities are located all across the country, in many different shapes and sizes. And it's an industry in certain states that appears to be relatively unregulated. Wyoming in particular is extremely unregulated.
KK: Do you know how Wyoming regulates these? These troubled teen establishments, facilities?
LW: Licensing is obviously huge. And then the Wyoming Department of Family Services plays a huge part in the supervision or the management so to speak, because these are minors, almost predominantly all minors at these treatment centers. So it falls under their purview. And just from the sources I've talked to, I know that Wyoming is definitely much less regulated than some other states.