Canon City lawsuit brews over school assault probe
July 10, 2007
By Tracy Harmon
CANON CITY - A notice of intent to file a $1 million lawsuit was served by attorneys for Royal Gorge Academy against city and county entities whose employees allegedly slandered the school during an assault investigation involving the former academy co-director.
The intent letter, filed by the law firm of Gradisar Trechter Ripperger Roth & Croshal of Pueblo, was sent to Canon City Police officials, City Manager Steve Rabe and Attorney John D. Havens, as well as Fremont County Attorney Brenda Jackson, County Commissioners Larry Lasha, Ed Norden and Mike Stiehl and Fremont County Department of Human Services Attorney Rocco Meconi and Director Steve Clifton.
The letter alleges that employees of the Canon City Police Department, including Detective Jeff Worley and employees of Fremont County Department of Human Services, including Michelle Harris, interfered with the operation of the business of the academy during the first week of January, "without permission, entered onto the physical premises of the Royal Gorge Academy, and, without probable cause, seized property of the academy including but not limited to computers, computer files and student files.”
In addition, police and human services representatives are alleged to have contacted "most" of the parents of the students at the academy "advising these parents to remove their children from the Royal Gorge Academy. The authorities allegedly libeled and slandered the academy by making untrue statements reporting Royal Gorge Academy was not accredited, saying any diplomas their children received would be valueless and of no more value than a (general education diploma) and that the quality of education was inferior," according to the letter.
"As a result of these statements, numerous parents removed their children from the Royal Gorge Academy, causing financial loss," according to the letter.
The academy is seeking $1 million in damages plus attorney fees and court costs.
"Our policy is not to comment on notices of intent to file suit," said Havens. "We have referred it to our insurance carrier."
Randall Hinton, 32, was arrested by Canon City police in January for investigation of allegations that stemmed from a Dec. 29 incident during which a 17-year-old female student at the campus reported she was forced to lie face down on the floor with her arms at her side and palms facing up for 12 hours.
She also said Hinton twice grabbed her arm and twisted it behind her back injuring her hand and wrist.
The incident was reported to police by an adult employee working at the academy.
Hinton faces trial Aug. 27 on seven third-degree assault charges and two counts of false imprisonment. The alleged victims include the female from the initial report as well as six male students at the school and stem from alleged incidents that caused bodily injury last January as well as throughout last year.
The private, co-ed school caters to 47 troubled youth ages 13 to 17 and is overseen by St. George, Utah, based Octwell LLC. Royal Gorge Academy is housed in the former St. Scholastica Academy, 615 Pike Ave., a 6-acre campus with numerous buildings and dormitory housing.