Sentencing this week in child abuse trial
MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) —
Three people convicted of child abuse who ran a private religious boarding school will be sentenced this week.
In Alabama, there are no regulations for private, religious boarding schools. Places parents voluntarily send their troubled teens for help. In fact, officials have no idea how many there even are in the state. What's more troubling, as Local 15's Andrea Ramey investigates in this Reality Check, are the allegations of abuse that have emerged from facilities right here in Mobile and Baldwin County.
They were entrusted with taking care of troubled kids, but teens who stayed here behind these boarded up windows at Saving Youth Foundation in Mobile say they were abused. Pastor John Young, William Knott, and Aleshia Moffett operated Saving Youth Foundation, a boarding school located on the Solid Rock Ministries Campus. All were charged with child abuse.
"The effects of what happened to these kids is going to be long lasting," said Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Keith Blackwood.
Trevor Crawford's parents sent him to Saving Youth Foundation all the way from Maine when he was 14 years old after he started getting in trouble for smoking marijuana, skipping school, and stealing his parents car.
"We were at our wits end, yes," said Leslie Crawford.
Crawford says she found the school online and was told her son would receive counseling.
"We felt like this was the answer," said Leslie Crawford.
In court earlier this month, Trevor testified staff not only beat him and put him in handcuffs but also put him in these isolation rooms twice for days at a time.
"First they'd strip you down to your boxers and then leave you in there for a duration of days. 32:56 It was pretty cold. You were on a concrete floor, no mattress," said Trevor Crawford.
Trevor says one boy tried to kill himself in isolation.
"There was this mentally disabled kid in isolation. He was in isolation for a period of a few days and he attempted suicide using the sheet," said Trevor.
After two months passed, Trevor's parents visited Mobile. Trevor broke down, described the abuse, and they brought him home.
"They're torturing kids and emotionally disturbing them," said Leslie.
Leslie says she pre-paid $20,000 for 10 months of treatment, money she never got back.
"They're just for profit. They don't care about the health and the welfare of the children," said Leslie.
There were red flags long before Trevor arrived at Saving Youth Foundation. William Knott also worked at Bethel Boys Academy in Mississippi that was shut down by the state after allegations of abuse surfaced there. In 2011, Knott and Young were running a similar operation in Prichard called Restoration Youth Academy.
"These places hide behind the cross," said Retired Prichard Police Captain Charles Kennedy.
Kennedy investigated abuse claims back then but couldn't convince higher ups at the time to shut it down.
"I wrote every state official, including the Governor trying to get them to pay attention to me," said Kennedy.
It's not the only operation authorities have investigated in our area. In December, DHR removed 25 boys, all from out of state, from Blessed Hope Boys Academy in Baldwin County.
"They were terrified when they came to my door," said Tina Boyington.
Boyington lives down the road from the religious boarding school and called 911 after two 16-year-old boys escaped from the facility and came to her for help.
"There had been one young kid locked in a closet, and if they were punished, sometimes they would take away their food," said Boyington.
The problem is that there is zero oversight in Alabama for facilities like this. One lawmaker this legislative session is looking to change that.
"We don't even know how many we have in Alabama," said Rep. Steve McMillian.
McMillian says it's time these kind of places are regulated.
"It's a question of someone trying to protect these children," said McMillian. "These facilities seem to make a special effort to attract children from out of state and that raises some red flags."
Thanks to the testimony Trevor and other victims gave outlying the abuse, Young Knott and Moffett were all found guilty.
They will be sentenced February 22nd.
McMillian is still drafting the bill that will be introduced this session. He's looking now at how the state of Washington added regulations there in 2015.