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‘It’s gone far enough’: Judge moves Northwest Academy case forward

Updated February 1, 2021 - 3:47 pm

BEATTY — After nine postponed pre-trial hearings over the course of nearly two years, a judge has ordered that a child abuse case against the married owners of a shuttered Amargosa Valley boarding school will move forward with a preliminary hearing.

Nye County prosecutors were expected to announce a plea deal Monday with Marcel and Patricia Chappuis, who have been free on bail since Valentine’s Day 2019 following their arrests on 45 counts each of child abuse or neglect.

A deal would have eliminated the need for a trial and would have signaled an end to a slow-moving case that has fended off any major court proceedings since August 2019, when the defendants were formally charged. But no such deal had been reached.

During Monday’s minuteslong Beatty Justice Court hearing, Justice of the Peace Gus Sullivan denied a request from prosecutor John Friel for another pre-trial hearing in order to continue negotiations with the couple and their attorney, Thomas Gibson.

“I think it’s gone far enough,” the judge said.

Sullivan set the preliminary hearing for April — after which he will decide whether there is enough evidence for the Chappuis couple to stand trial — although both Friel and Gibson on Monday said they may reach a deal before then.

“We’re really close to negotiating this matter,” Gibson told the judge, noting that they were waiting on a “final answer” from Nye County District Attorney Chris Arabia.

Arabia did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The couple’s felony counts stem from a history of documented issues with contaminated tap water at Northwest Academy, their boarding school for at-risk youth, and represent each student enrolled at the academy in its final year of operation, between February 2018 and February 2019.

Marcel and Patricia Chappuis arrived at the Beatty courthouse on Monday in a gold Cadillac sedan. As they approached the courthouse’s glass doors, walking hand in hand, Marcel Chappuis used his free hand to pull his blazer over a Las Vegas Review-Journal photographer’s camera.

The couple and their boarding school first made headlines in January 2019, when the Nye County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had opened an investigation into reports of abuse at the academy.

In a brief phone call days after news broke of the investigation, Patrica Chappuis told a Review-Journal reporter: “There have been a multitude of inaccuracies and falsities reported. There have been no findings of abuse or neglect by Sheriff (Sharon) Wehrly or any of the licensing boards.”

She and her husband were arrested weeks later in Las Vegas at their children’s northwest valley home.

The Review-Journal then launched its own investigation into the couple’s little-known school, and in May 2019 published a four-part series, titled “Deserted in the Desert,” which uncovered multi-agency failures in Nevada that allowed problems at the school to go unaddressed for more than two years, including claims of child abuse and issues with its tap water.

Over the years, the school had racked up dozens of violations from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection after the couple had stopped treating its tap water in October 2016, the newspaper’s investigation found, leading to high levels of arsenic and fluoride.

The former Northwest Academy campus, located along state Route 373 near Mecca Road, is now the site of Never Give Up, a youth residential psychiatric facility.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-3081. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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