Special needs facility under investigation after report staffer abused child

Authorities investigate alleged child abuse
Published: May. 10, 2016 at 8:53 AM EDT|Updated: May. 10, 2016 at 7:31 PM EDT
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SHELBY, NC (WBTV) - A day treatment facility for special needs students is under investigation by the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office after a staff member reportedly assaulted a six-year-old girl.

Detectives with the sheriff's office served a search warrant on the Alexander Youth Network's day treatment facility in Shelby in late April seeking records connected to the incident.

According to an affidavit filed with the search warrant, detectives started investigating after the student's mother filed a criminal complaint.

The student's mother, Kennie Bowen, said she called police after noticing a large bruise on her daughter's shoulder.

Bowen said her daughter, Greenlee, wouldn't tell her what had happened out of fear of getting in trouble the next day at school.

Bowen's daughter has several behavioral disorders and has been tested for autism.

"A counselor at AYN called me and said they had had a report filed that day. A member of their staff had actually, how did she put it, 'got physical' with Greenlee," Bowen recalled. "She said, 'but we handled it and you don't have to worry about it anymore.'"

Bowen said that when she asked if charges had been pressed against her daughter the supervisor at the day treatment facility told her that would not be necessary.

According to the affidavit, a staff member at the facility threatened the student, slammed her in a chair and assaulted her.

"The allegation was that Greenlee hit (the employee) and (the employee) responded by slamming her in the chair, while saying 'I'm going to make your life a living hell if you hit me.' It was then said that Greenlee spit on (the employee) and (the employee) hit Greenlee in the head 3 times and pulled her hair," the affidavit reads.

DOCUMENT: Read the search warrant and affidavit filed in this case

According to the affidavit filed with the search warrant to obtain documents from AYN's Shelby facility, the facility's supervisor delayed reporting the incident.

Bowen reported the incident to the sheriff's office on April 27. The next day, the affidavit says, a detective interviewed the facility's supervisor, who had just filed a report about the incident in question.

The detective notes that she asked the facility's supervisor about the delay in reporting the incident.

"(The supervisor) asked the staff member why she didn't report the incident when it happened, and she advised she was worried about other staff member who were the suspect's friends," the affidavit reads.

Detectives ultimately served a search warrant on the facility for records related to the incident after the facility's supervisor refused to voluntarily provide them.

"Det. Woosley has knowledge from her training and experience, that when an individual and or cooperation (sic) does not voluntary (sic) supply information essential to an investigation it is believed to be 'covering up' and or hiding information," the detective wrote in the affidavit.

The affidavit also says that obstruction of justice charges could apply if the documents were not produced in response to the search warrant.

A spokeswoman for Alexander Youth Network did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the details and allegations contained in the search warrant but had previously issued a statement about the situation.

"As required, we immediately report all allegations of abuse first to the Department of Social Services Child Protective Services, and then to the NC Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Health Service Regulation and the Local Management Entities-Managed Care Organizations (LME-MCO's)," spokeswoman Dee Gano said in a written statement.

"With this particular incident, we reported it immediately to DSS and then to DHSR and Partners Behavioral Health Management. We dealt with the implicated employee swiftly according to protocol, and that person is no longer employed by Alexander Youth Network. We are fully cooperating with the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office investigation."

On Your Side Investigates could not confirm that the incident had been reported to the Department of Social Services.

"Our Child Protection Policy and our Child Abuse and Neglect Policy prohibit abuse and our Model of Care Policy prohibits the use of corporal punishment," Gano said.

"Our employees go through extensive background checks and thorough training that is specially designed to help and support children who have endured emotional trauma. If any employees do not adhere to our therapeutic model and best practices, they are subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination," she said.

Kennie Bowen, Greenlee's mother, said she hopes charges are filed against the staff member who assaulted her daughter.

"She's not going back to that school," Bowen said. "If they have to arrest me – she's been hurt too many times."

Tuesday afternoon, AYN sent an updated response:

"Alexander Youth Network is dedicated to the health and mental wellbeing of children. Our work is rewarding but it is extraordinarily difficult. We believe in continually reviewing and improving our procedures. We have built an honorable reputation for our commitment to professionalism and adhering to all rules and regulations related to our work.

As a licensed mental health facility, we are required by law to report allegations of abuse to the Department of Social Services (DSS), which we did. We are not aware of what DSS did or did not report directly to the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office (CCSO).

In reference to the affidavit from Detective Woosley, we were not "covering up" or hiding information. We fully cooperated with CCSO. As a mental health care provider, we are bound by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to keep all health records private until requested by a search warrant. We would have been in violation of HIPAA regulations if we would have disclosed any protected documentation prior to receiving the search warrant. Once the warrant was obtained and presented, we cooperated fully, providing all requested documents, and will continue to do so as requested.

Any further comments would be inappropriate during the period of investigation."

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