Pre-Trial Process for Lawsuit Against Troubled Teen Rehab Ranch Underway

Plaintiffs allege Trinity Teen Solutions is guilty of abuse and human trafficking

Pictured above are cabins at the Trinity Teen Solutions, a residential treatment facility for girls in Powell, Wyoming. The ranch is currently involved in a class action lawsuit, which accuses the facility of abuse, human trafficking and lack of proper hygiene. (Courtesy photo from the Trinity Teen Solutions’ website)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A pre-trial process is underway for a class action lawsuit involving allegations of abuse, lack of proper hygiene and human trafficking against a troubled teen rehabilitation ranch in a rural town in northwest Wyoming.

The lawsuit filed against Trinity Teen Solutions in Powell, which describes itself as a residential treatment center for struggling teen girls, asserts that the ranch forced the numerous plaintiffs to work without pay for long periods of time, threatened them with food and sleep deprivation and imposed physical punishment and emotional abuse, such as being leashed to other girls or farm animals or being forced to run up and down hills with sharp rocks and rattlesnakes. The court filing also claims the plaintiffs had to partake in hard labor, such as running miles of irrigation lines, repairing barbed wire fencing, birthing livestock and picking rocks out of fields for days at a time.

“Laboring conditions were hazardous, causing numerous injuries and even frostbite,” states the lawsuit, which was initially filed in November 2020 in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. “Defendant Owners and/or their agents caused Plaintiffs and the putative class members to believe that if they did not work for Defendants, they would suffer physical or emotional abuse and prolonged confinement.” 

This week, a judge granted a motion for order allowing plaintiffs to appear for a telephone hearing on Sept. 28. A jury trial is set for June 5, 2023 at 9 a.m. in Casper before the Honorable Scott Skavdahl, according to the case docket sheet.

An NBC News investigation into the case published this week describes how former residents of Trinity Teen Solutions reportedly dragged carcasses of dead animals and suffered injuries including cuts, frostbite and torn ligaments requiring surgery in one case from transporting bales of hay and moving heavy metal pipes to irrigate fields.

“Trinity is a bunch of fear-based activities and punishments that were supposed to teach you something, but all they taught you was how to be scared of everything,” Carlie Sherman, 23, told NBC News. Sherman was sent to the girls’ ranch twice, at ages 13 and 15.

At Triangle Cross Ranch, a nearby facility for boys and run by the same family, one former resident claimed two staff members branded his right arm with the shape of a cross in 2012 as part of an induction into the adult program, the lawsuit states. The plaintiff reportedly did not receive medical care, and the wound became infected.

Triangle Cross Ranch, owned by Jerry Schneider, was originally included in the lawsuit but was dropped from it in January. The judge ordered the claims of the plaintiffs against Triangle Cross Ranch to proceed in a separate case.

The Wyoming Truth contacted the Triangle Cross Ranch Friday, but the person who answered the phone declined to identify himself or comment.

Angie Woodward, director and co-owner of Trinity Teen Solutions (TTS), told the Wyoming Truth that they are currently in litigation and bound by patient confidentiality laws; therefore, she cannot comment on specific patients or their allegations.

“However, TTS is a certified and licensed Wyoming residential treatment center by the Wyoming Department of Family Services and reported allegations of abuse have been investigated and unsubstantiated,” Woodward said. “TTS continues to maintain its licensure to operate and accreditation by the Joint Commission, which requires TTS to meet the Commission’s requirements and its standards of quality, performance, and patient care. TTS accordingly strives to restore the mind, body, and spirit of our patients through our program.” 

The Wyoming Truth also reached out to one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Brice Moffatt Timmons, on Friday. Timmons did not answer or return the phone call.

Clint Hanes, a public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Family Services, said in an interview with the Wyoming Truth that the agency has “frequent and consistent monitoring” with a minimum of three annual visits to the ranches.

“Triangle Cross Ranch is in compliance with corrective action plans and/or licensing rules,” Hanes said. “Trinity Teen Solutions has not had any corrective action plans within the past several years and upon last review, was in compliance with licensing requirements.”  

He added the department has done “considerable work to ensure safety of youth in substitute care facilities is front and center.”  

NBC News reported that the Wyoming Department of Family Services has received complaints about Trinity Teen Solutions and the Triangle Cross Ranch since 2007; however, Clines said he could not comment about these since they happened under the prior department’s administration.

The news outlet also claimed that Triangle Cross Ranch had been cited for at least 28 violations over the past decade. Clines said it would take time to review old records to calculate the total number of violations in that time frame for the ranches, and therefore, could not immediately provide that information.

“The Department takes all allegations of child abuse or neglect very seriously,” he said. “If the Department receives any allegations of child abuse or neglect for any youth at any substitute care facility, regardless of source, those allegations are referred to the Department’s Social Services Division for assessment and investigation in accordance with Wyoming statute and Department rules.”

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