Lawsuit alleges use of force “shocking to conscience” in closed Vermont juvenile detention center

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Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex, now closed. Photo by Mark Johnson / VTDigger

A lawsuit filed on behalf of several youths who had been placed in the now-closed Vermont juvenile detention center alleges widespread neglect, abuse and retaliation by employees who worked at the facilities and those responsible for supervise them.

The lawsuit was filed Monday morning by attorneys Brooks McArthur and David Williams, who represent six youths who had been taken into juvenile custody in Vermont. Another claimant is the administrator of the estate of a youth who had stayed at the facility but who has since died of a drug overdose.

Young people are identified in the trial only by their initials.

“As a result of the scandalous, illegal, unconstitutional and unlawful conduct of the defendants, the plaintiffs have suffered serious physical and psychological injuries, both temporary and permanent, and are entitled to compensatory damages resulting from these injuries,” said writes the lawyers in the lawsuit.

They added, “The defendants used objectively unreasonable, excessive and conscience-shocking physical force. “

The lawsuit names around a dozen defendants, including many who worked at the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex. His nine counts include allegations of excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment and retaliation against youths who report abuse.

The Scott administration closed Woodside in October 2020. Among the reasons given for closing the 30-bed facility was the declining number of young people receiving services there, ranging from a handful to sometimes none.

The state had previously faced a federal lawsuit brought by Disability Rights Vermont for the use of restraints at the facility. Federal Judge Geoffrey Crawford granted an injunction against the state, ordering corrective measures.

The judge, in his ruling, wrote of a “horrific” video he watched of a young man in crisis in Woodside.

The state planned to replace Woodside with a smaller private facility in Newbury, although that proposal was delayed as the Local Development Review Board rejected a permit for the facility.

The Scott administration has said it plans to appeal the denial.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

This story will be updated.

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