Nye County Sheriff’s Office detectives have launched dual investigations into what is described as a private boarding school for at-risk teenagers in Amargosa Valley.
On Jan. 28, detectives began the investigation at the Northwest Academy facility located at 1472 Highway 373, in reference to allegations that staff was using excessive force on juveniles, according to a news release issued by Sgt. Adam Tippetts.
One staff member, identified as Pahrump resident Caleb Hill, 29, of Pahrump, was eventually arrested on a child abuse charge.
“The juvenile, 14, described being picked up off of the ground and thrown to the floor,” Tippetts said. “On January 29th, Nye County Sheriff’s Office detectives served a search warrant at Northwest Academy, accompanied by staff from the State of Nevada Division of Child and Family Services. All students and on-site staff members were interviewed.”
During the course of the interviews, Tippetts said detectives received numerous complaints from students concerning the level of force used by Hill.
Detectives, according to the release, identified instances in which staff went “hands-on” with students on numerous occasions, where Hill acknowledged that the tactic was against school policy.
“During that investigation, detectives spoke with students who claimed they had injuries and broken bones, generally toes, for which they were refused medical care,” Tippetts said.
Serious water issues
During the interviews with students and staff, detectives also learned that the water system at the academy was contaminated with arsenic and other harmful substances.
As a result, detectives discovered that staff was providing bottled drinking water to the juveniles, but limiting them to only three small bottles of water per day.
Multiple juveniles, according to the release, reported that rashes had developed on their skin, which they believe was caused from showering in the contaminated water.
Tippetts said detectives then requested medical professionals to respond to the facility in order to conduct examinations on the juveniles.
“These examinations were limited to the child’s complaints, which uncovered multiple injuries to the juveniles that required medical attention,” Tippetts said. “In addition, the doctor provided a preliminary determination that the widespread rashes among the juveniles were linked to the contaminated water. The doctor also stated that three small bottles of water per day was insufficient. The water is currently being retested for current arsenic, fluoride, and nitrate levels.”
As a consequence, detectives obtained information from the State of Nevada Department of Environmental Protection that as of the last water testing at Northwest Academy on Nov. 6, 2018, the arsenic levels in the water were more than three times the drinking water standard.
It was further learned, according to the release, that Northwest Academy stopped treating the water on or about October of 2016.
“The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Safe Drinking Water began attempting to work with Northwest Academy to bring the water system back into compliance with safe drinking water regulations in early 2018,” Tippetts noted. “They were given a deadline of Dec. 31, 2018. As of Jan. 28, 2019, Northwest Academy is still out of compliance.”
Testing for contaminants
Additionally, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office obtained and executed a search warrant for blood and hair samples from the juveniles to test for arsenic and other potentially harmful substances they may have been exposed to while housed at Northwest Academy.
“Parents were notified of samples taken, the reasons for the samples, and that they could come and check out their children if they chose,” Tippetts said.
“At the request of the State of Nevada Division of Health and Human Services, a licensing entity, sheriff’s office detectives did notify a few parents that the facility was being closed due to lack of staffing. After negotiations with the academy owners, adequate staffing was confirmed and the Division of Health and Human Services and the State of Nevada Division of Child and Family Services, on scene, made the determination to leave the children in the facility.”
The Nye County Sheriff’s Office is continuing the investigation.
Anyone with information related to the investigation is asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 775 751-7000.
Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at email@example.com, on Twitter: @pvtimes
Arsenic in water won’t close Nevada boarding school
The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services has decided against shuttering an Amargosa Valley boarding school after a visit to the facility showed that steps were being taken to ensure students’ safety, a department representative said Monday.
Officials revealed last week that they were investigating reports of child abuse and water contamination at Northwest Academy, located near the Nevada-California border about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas in Nye County.
Students are being served bottled water while several government offices work with the school to treat its water for high levels of arsenic and fluoride.
Though a physician’s report supported students’ claims that rashes on their skin was linked to the water contamination, Margot Chappel, deputy administrator for regulatory and planning services for the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, said a state epidemiologist found that evidence of the link was inconclusive.
“Without that definitive information, it seems premature to shut it down and have to displace and disrupt these kids’ lives and the treatment they may be in,” Chappel said.
Though the substance, naturally occurring in Nevada’s soil, is added into drinking water to promote dental health, an excess can lead to damage of the teeth, said UNLV assistant professor Dan Gerrity, who studies water treatment.
Still, long-term exposure could lead to cancer. How long that would take varies from person to person, Gerrity said.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Division of Environmental Protection has been working with Northwest Academy since January 2017 to treat its water for contaminants, spokeswoman JoAnn Kittrell said in an emailed statement Monday. The facility stopped treating its water in October 2016.
The division gave the school formal notice in February 2018 that it would need to treat the water by Dec. 31, but the school missed the deadline.
The health department gave parents and guardians the opportunity to pull students from the school Thursday, Chappel said. By Friday afternoon, 12 of the school’s 37 students were removed from the program, leaving 25 under the supervision of eight staff members, she said.
At the time of her visit Thursday, the school had eight, 40-bottle cases of water and eight, 5-gallon jugs of water.
“I flew at 6 in the morning on Thursday from Reno to Las Vegas and drove out to the Amargosa Valley with the explicit purpose of looking to see if the place should be shut down,” Chappel said Monday. “By the end of the day, all of the issues that were being investigated had been addressed in some way or another, and all of the parents had been called to give them a choice.”
— Jessie Bekker, Las Vegas Review-Journal