Years before the Northwest Academy boarding school in Amargosa Valley was closed amid an ongoing child abuse investigation, juvenile probation officials from four Nevada communities pulled their students from the facility.
Those communities never again referred students to the school for at-risk youth. Still, in the years that followed, Northwest Academy remained open, despite repeated reports to the Nye County Sheriff’s Office of assault, child abuse and runaway children — and at least one report of a sex offense.
In 2015, the Douglas County Juvenile Probation Office pulled three students amid concerns the school was unable to control aggressive students, was not providing promised counseling services and “because of increased concerns surrounding the credibility of the program, staff and administration,” Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Scott Shick said in a recent statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“Based on the circumstances, the disconnect between administration and program staff and the lack of response to our questions and concerns from Northwest Academy administration, we removed our children from the program and reported our concerns to Nevada Child Care Licensing,” Shick added.
That same year, records show, officials in Lyon County and Carson City informed the Nye County Sheriff’s Office they were pulling their children out of the facility after alleged abuse by staff.
In 2016, because of “a number of challenges,” the Nye County Juvenile Probation Office stopped referring students to the school, Chief Probation Officer Tom Metscher said.
According to emails obtained from the sheriff’s office, the agency received at least 40 reports related to the school between February 2015 and November 2018. They included four reports of child abuse by staff members against students.
None of the four child abuse claims resulted in an arrest.
In fact, no arrests would be made until January 2019, when staff member Caleb Hill was arrested on suspicion of child abuse. The following month, Nye County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the school’s married owners, Marcel and Patricia Chappuis, on charges of child abuse or neglect involving ongoing issues with the school’s tap water.
The couple had stopped treating the water in October 2016, leading to levels of arsenic and fluoride in the water above the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards.
Everyone turned their backs’
Of the 40 reports to the sheriff’s office, the agency claims 20 of them were instances of assault by students against staff members, while 16 involved instances of student-on-student violence.
But the agency has refused to hand over incident reports for the cases to the Review-Journal, citing the ongoing investigation into the school.
One instance of alleged abuse involved Marcel Chappuis, who was accused of throwing a 16-year-old student against a wall. No arrest was made in that case.
Deputies also were called to investigate at least 11 reports of children running away — including one girl who was found bleeding on the side of the road after jumping over a fence, records show.
“This is a skeleton of what really happened,” said Nicole Bayer, who pulled her son out of Northwest Academy in May 2016, upon reviewing the records with the Review-Journal.
The sheriff’s office did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or statement.
By the time Marcel and Patricia Chappuis were arrested, employees and parents had sent years of complaints and concerns to authorities that appeared to go nowhere.
In February, one frustrated former employee wrote to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, which was responsible for overseeing the school’s public water system.
“We knew what was happening and tried to get help but everyone turned their backs on us,” the employee wrote. “No matter how many complaints to several departments we were left unheard and to deal with the consequences of whistle-blowing in our small community.”
Reports went nowhere
When contacted by the Review-Journal, neither Metscher nor officials in Carson City and Lyon County would elaborate on their decisions to remove children from Northwest Academy.
Nye County Sgt. Michael Eisenloffel addressed some of the concerns about the school in an internal email in November 2015.
“I just received a report from Lyon County in which another probationary kid returned home from the facility and alleged abusive behavior by staff,” he wrote. “Reading the report, I don’t see anything that seems too egregious considering that the staff is dealing with kids that are obviously sometimes out of control, but I could be wrong.”
When Bayer arrived at the school in May 2016 and saw her son’s bruised face, she filed a report with the sheriff’s office. She never heard from the agency again, she said.
“I made a police report and tried to do a follow-up on the police report,” she said. “They don’t know where it went.”
Edward and Jackie Clay, a married couple who worked at the school in 2017, said they reported several instances of abuse by staff members to the sheriff’s office.
They quit after less than a year when nothing came of their reports. The couple also claimed Patricia Chappuis threatened to fire them if they contacted law enforcement again.
Thomas Gibson, who represents the school’s owners, argued that while half of the material in a police report may be factual, the other half is “fantasy.”
“They know defense attorneys are reading those reports,” he said. “They want to beef them up to make it look better.”
This month, at least four years after complaints began rolling in to the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, Marcel and Patricia Chappuis were formally charged with 45 felony counts each of child abuse or neglect.
They are expected in Beatty Justice Court on Sept. 9 for a pretrial hearing.
Contact Rio Lacanlale at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter. Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at email@example.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.