FOX10 News Investigates PART 1: Saving Youth Foundation - FOX10 News | WALA

FOX10 News Investigates PART 1: Saving Youth Foundation

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The sleeping quarters of children in the Saving Youth Foundation. Three people affiliated with the facility have been charged with aggravated abuse. The sleeping quarters of children in the Saving Youth Foundation. Three people affiliated with the facility have been charged with aggravated abuse.
MOBILE, AL (WALA) -

Three people charged with aggravated abuse at a residential youth facility in Mobile will go on trial in a few months.  

According to the Mobile County District Attorney's office it's the first time the owners of such a facility have been charged with felony child abuse in Mobile County.  

Supporters of Saving Youth Foundation say the church-based operation is responsible for positive changes in the lives of children in its care, but, the facility was shut down by DHR,  and a police investigation led to criminal indictments that allege dozens of kids were subjected to physical and emotional abuse for profit. 

More than 30 children, most of whom were brought to Mobile from out-of state were removed from Saving Youth Foundation in March when the Alabama Department of Human Resources shut down the facility amid allegations of abuse. 

Owners John Young Junior, William Knott, and Aleshia Moffett were indicted by a Mobile County Grand Jury on 24 charges of aggravated abuse.  

The indictments allege children was kept in isolation for unreasonable periods of time, placed in unreasonable restraints, forced to do excessive exercise, and even denied prescription medication. 

The felony charges are new, but the allegations involving the church-based operation and the three defendants are not. 

"I was terrified at this point and then I said no I won't, and then he hit me in the head, the first time, and then he hit me in the head again after I stopped and surrendered." 

That's what teenager Madison Litsky told Miami reporter Bob Norman in 2013. Litsky said Pastor Young hit her so hard in the face she almost passed out.

Another teen, William Vargas, said he was attacked by William Knott when he couldn't keep up with the exercise.

"So after he started choking me he threw me on the floor, and when i was on the floor he punched me on the side of the head," William Vargas said.

Those are just some of the allegations reported while the facility was located in Prichard, and called Restoration Youth Academy. 

"Punching them in the face, punching them in the stomach repeatedly. They would put them in isolation in their underwear and leave them for several days," Michelle Simmons said. 

FOX10 News Reporter Renee Dials talked to Simmons at her home outside Atlanta recently. Simmons said she didn't find out about the alleged abuse until after she removed her 15-year-old son from the facility.

"I just think he was afraid of what the consequences would be," Simmons said.

Simmons said her child's arm was broken by another teen at the boot camp.  Simmons found out about the injury three weeks later when her son came home for a visit. 
The hospital report indicates the teenager said he didn't tell anyone until a few days earlier.  But, Simmons believes the staff at the boot camp knew about the injury.

"What they would do is if he acted up or did something they would come and pull his arm or poke him in the arm for punishment," she said. 

"As I stated we intend to plead not guilty to all charges, and they have hired me for the representation of their defense, thank you. Bye," Defense attorney Marcus Foxx said. 

Foxx did not have much to say about the current charges against the three defendants, following a court hearing in September.  

Young has repeatedly denied the allegations of abuse.  This is what he told FOX10 News shortly after police raided SYF in March.

"I don't really blame the kids. They want their freedom. They want to go smoke their pot and go out on the streets and go on Facebook and everything and a facility like this is a controlled environment," Young said.
  
Even though the facility is now shut down church members say they still support their pastor and the former boot camp facility.

"Because I know that the facility was run to help children hands down.  Children would come here one way, they would leave differently," Lakeshia Peters said.

"I know he's putting forth every effort that he has, every resource that he has available.  He's an awesome man of God," Marquis Jacobs said. 

"These letters that you see right here were letters that were sneaked to me by the boys," Charles Kennedy said.

Former Prichard Police Captain Charles Kennedy has been trying for years to bring attention to what he called a serious threat to children he discovered long before the boot camp changed its name and moved to Mobile.

"It is one of the most frustrating things that I have had.  I was a police officer for many, many years, and this is probably one of the most frustrating things that I have ever dealt with in law enforcement," Kennedy said.

Kennedy is glad the recent investigation has resulted in criminal indictments.

"There's been this three year lack of action that finally, finally something was done," he said. 

The three defendants are scheduled to go on trial in February.   Saving Youth Foundation is the new name for the same group that started out in Prichard under another name, Restoration Youth Academy.  It appears one of the defendants got his start with teen boot camps in another state.  Learn more about that in Part 2 of our special FOX10 News investigation. 

All content © 2015, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved. 

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