Utah investigates allegations of abuse, violence at Red Rock Canyon School

Law enforcement officers respond to an incident at Red Rock Canyon School, St. George, Utah, April 28, 2019 | File photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) A youth psychiatric center where a brawl broke out last month is at risk of losing its license as Utah state officials investigate claims of sexual abuse, violence and several other issues.

Investigators say the Red Rock Canyon School in St. George must make more than a dozen significant changes to keep its license, according to a letter posted to Utah’s legislative website. The school serves teens suffering from mental health-related issues, including about two dozen from Oregon’s child welfare system.

State officials outline nine violations in the letter, including the school’s failure to report the brawl until days later. Investigators cited improper staffing ratios and “numerous accounts of mistreatment, abuse, acts of violence and overall disrespect toward residents.”

The letter also states that during a tour of the campus, investigators found items that could reasonably be used as weapons, like broken pieces of tile, and witnessed “harmful chemicals in aerosol cans which clients were huffing to get high.”

Staffing problems at the school have left residents and staffers feeling unsafe, culminating in the fight that broke out April 28, according to the letter from the Department of Human Services.

The conditional status of the school’s license will last for a minimum of 90 days and includes retraining staff, fixing and maintaining a clean and safe environment, and reducing client capacity from approximately 100 girls and boys to 60.

Red Rock Canyon School officials did not return phone messages seeking comment. When a St. George News reporter approached officials at the school they declined to comment.

The brawl sent five people to the hospital and injured 20 people started at about 8 p.m. and led to the closure of an entire city block in front of the school as curious bystanders watched as armed officers rushed in. It took police officers about an hour to get it under control.

Read more: ‘Widespread’ fighting at St. George youth facility results in multiple injuries

Officials claim the staff escalated the brawl by making “humiliating and degrading comments” to residents.

Five youths face a felony-level charge of rioting, Washington County prosecutor Angela Adams said.

Red Rock Canyon School has been the focus of a number of lawsuits in recent years, many concerning staffers who have allegedly physically or sexually abused residents.

Two lawsuits filed last year accuse the school of overlooking the sexual abuse of two youths by former employee who is now a registered sex offender. The school defended its actions in court filings, saying it had no reason to believe the employee was a danger to students when he worked at the school. A 2008 lawsuit outlined similar practices.

St. George News reporter Ryann Richardson contributed to this report.

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