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Another Nye County youth facility faces abuse allegations

Updated December 4, 2019 - 7:51 pm

The Nye County Sheriff’s Office has opened an investigation into allegations of physical and sexual abuse at a youth residential psychiatric facility located on the same rural Amargosa Valley property as the private boarding school Northwest Academy, which closed earlier this year amid similar allegations.

Nye County sheriff’s deputies served a search warrant Monday at the Never Give Up Youth Healing Center, which once shared the campus — located along state Route 373 near Mecca Road — with Northwest Academy, the Sheriff’s Office announced on Tuesday.

Never Give Up took over the property, and took in some of Northwest Academy’s students in February, after the married owners of the private boarding school for “troubled youth” were arrested on suspicion of child abuse and neglect.

The facility offers behavioral and mental health services in a “home-like setting” for youth between 8 and 17 years old “whose needs can no longer be met in acute or less restrictive care,” according to its website.

The Sheriff’s Office said in a social media post that interviews for the investigation into Never Give Up were ongoing.

Raymond Lomeli, 21, of Henderson, was arrested Monday after authorities said he obstructed an officer executing the search warrant.

Residents, staff interviewed

“The reports also indicated that staff members were failing to report these allegations within the 24-hour mandatory requirement,” Lt. Adam Tippetts said. “Several interviews were conducted with children and staff members.”

Similar allegations were lodged over the years at Northwest Academy but went largely unheeded, an investigation earlier this year by the Las Vegas Review-Journal revealed.

In a statement released Wednesday, Never Give Up said that it is “deeply concerned and frustrated” with the events that took place Monday, alleging that the manner in which the investigation was conducted “unacceptably endangered the safety of our residents.”

“While our highest priority is the safety and well-being of our residents, we are not immune to allegations of wrongdoing as are made against any other youth psychiatric facility,” the center said.

“We believe our presence in the former location of a facility notorious for its quality of care issues lends instant credibility to any allegation against us, even before an investigation has begun,” the statement said. “As a result, deputies took unnecessarily restrictive measures and caused great upheaval within our facility and distress to our residents.”

Northwest Academy was owned and operated by Marcel and Patricia Chappuis, who face 45 counts each of child abuse, one count for each student enrolled at their boarding school between February 2018 and 2019.

Authorities have said most of the felony counts stem from issues with their school’s tap water, which was tainted with high amounts of arsenic and fluoride.

Working on water problems

After Northwest Academy’s closure, Never Give Up owner Daniel Cox told the Review-Journal that he was working with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection to bring the facility’s water into compliance.

As of Wednesday, according to division spokeswoman Samantha Thompson, Never Give Up has “engaged the services of an engineering company for selection, design, purchase and installation of new water treatment equipment.”

A specific timeline for completion wasn’t available Wednesday, “but progress is being made,” Thompson said in an email statement to the Review-Journal.

The newspaper’s investigation into Northwest Academy, “Deserted in the Desert,” uncovered the failure of multiple state agencies to hold the school accountable for several problems — including reports of abuse and the water violations. Unaware of these issues, the state Department of Education continued to renew the academy’s private school license.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which licensed Northwest Academy as a child care facility, found many of the abuse allegations to be unsubstantiated but later issued a “root cause analysis” report that concluded that the agency did not have policies in place requiring interagency communication about ongoing issues.

Marcel and Patricia Chappuis are due in Beatty Justice Court on Jan. 13 for their pretrial hearing.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @ameliapakharvey on Twitter. Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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