$52 million settlement reached in abuse case against former Harrison County boarding school

Harrison

SALEM, W.Va. – Philadelphia attorneys Brian Kent and Guy D’Andrea of Laffey, Bucci & Kent, LLP have announced that they have secured a record settlement of $52 million on behalf of 29 victims who endured years of sexual and physical abuse at Miracle Meadows school in Harrison County.

The settlement was finalized Oct. 27. Jesse Forbes of Forbes Law Offices and Scott Long of Hendrickson & Long were also involved in the case.

The suit against the now-closed school sought to hold the Christian boarding school for at-risk youth accountable for abuses perpetrated for decades by school staff members, a press release states. It sought compensation on behalf of 29 survivors who suffered abuses over the years, including being chained and shackled to beds, sexually assaulted, starved and beaten.

The law firm explains that in some cases, children were duct-taped or handcuffed naked in a 5-by-8-foot room with no toilet except a coffee can, no toilet paper, no shower and no interaction with other students. The students were fed bread and fruit at one meal and rice and beans at another, and were held in so-called “quarantine” for weeks, and at times months, on end.

“For too long, Miracle Meadows was able to thwart the judicial system, allowing the systematic abuse of hundreds of children to continue for decades,” said D’Andrea, who served as lead attorney on the case. “This settlement represents justice for these victims and puts on notice any so-called school official who thinks they can get away with betraying the trust of the families and children in their care.”

“The abuse suffered by these children would shock the conscious [sic] of any West Virginian,” said their attorney Jesse Forbes. “They were stripped naked, handcuffed, sexually abused and kept in a 5-by-8-foot room with a coffee can for a toilet. This is the stuff straight from a horror movie.” 

Founded in 1987, Miracle Meadows operated as a boarding school within a Christian sect’s educational system. Before it was shut down in 2014, it purported to serve children ages 7 to 17 who had behavioral or educational issues, often due to trauma they had suffered, according to the release. The law firm alleges that instead of providing children with counseling and education, Miracle Meadows’ staff members tortured them, and administrators, including school founder Susan Gayle Clark, covered it up.

“I wouldn’t put my dog in there,” one law enforcement official said of Miracle Meadows during the case’s discovery process.

“I was appalled. It’s child abuse. It’s unconscionable to me to handcuff a child and shackle a child in that fashion,” said a West Virginia State Police trooper deposed in the case.

Authorities in Harrison County became aware of allegations of physical and sexual abuse as early as 1994, the release states. Clark and other school leaders did everything in their power to thwart and deflect the investigations in order to keep the $3,000-a-month “tuition” rolling in, D’Andrea said.

“I have spent years as a guardian ad litem for abused children in this state and I have never seen anything like this,” said Forbes, “These children were tortured in ways that people couldn’t even dream about in their worst nightmares, and the fact that it continued over so many decades is truly shocking.”

Attorneys said it took years for authorities to amass the evidence they needed. Prosecutors found it difficult to investigate complaints because students came from other states and could be shuttled off to another school quickly to avoid being interviewed. The school’s staff members were brought in on religious work visas and could quickly be sent back to their home countries before authorities could question them.

In August 2014, authorities had enough evidence to act. At that time, they stormed the property, removed 19 children and closed the school. Clark was arrested and later pleaded guilty to child neglect, failure to report and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to six months in jail, followed by five years of reporting probation. A Miracle Meadows teacher, Timothy Arrington, was arrested and accused of choking and handcuffing several boys until they passed out.

The children at Miracle Meadows were particularly vulnerable to abuse, Kent said.

“These were at-risk children, many with serious mental health issues often as a result of abuse or neglect in their childhood, being sent away hundreds of miles from home,” Kent said. “Their families hoped a stern, Bible-based boarding school would turn their lives around. Complaints were expected and made; however, Miracle Meadows monitored phone calls and mail to control complaints and successfully covered up the abuse by convincing others the children were lying. This enabled unfettered and horrific child abuse for decades. This lawsuit and settlement is vindication for these kids.”

“This settlement will finally bring justice to these innocent children, now adults, and hopefully allow them to begin to heal,” Long said. “The horrific abuse has come to an end but without setting aside money to provide these former children the healing services they desperately need their abuse would continue.”   

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