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APNewsBreak: Neglect found at Kan. military school

Tuesday - 6/19/2012, 5:27pm  ET

By ROXANA HEGEMAN
Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas child welfare officials have found a lack of supervision at a military school where a 14-year-old California boy allegedly was tormented after suffering two broken legs, but their investigation uncovered no proof that anyone there caused the injuries or denied the boy medical care.

The report by the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services says there was "clear and convincing evidence" to support the findings of neglect against a military advisor and two nurses at St. John's Military School in Salina. It cleared another military advisor who called for an ambulance. The AP is not naming the employees because they have not been criminally charged.

Jesse Mactagone, of Auburn, Calif., attended the school for four days last August and contends in a lawsuit that his legs were broken on separate days there. Mactagone's mother, Jennifer Mactagone, who provided the report to the AP, said she was disappointed that SRS didn't go further in its June 7 report.

"SRS is a waste of our time and money, if you want my real opinion," Jennifer Mactagone said. "I am very much disheartened by them."

St. John's told AP in a statement that the three employees who received notice from SRS alleging lack of supervision plan to appeal the agency's findings. If they lose the appeal, their names would be placed in a central registry which forbids them from working or volunteering in regulated facilities.

In a mess hall video, captured on a cellphone by someone inside, the boy pleads with a military advisor to "please help me" as laughter from classmates drowns out his cries. The adult advisor, who is one of the staff members accused in the SRS report, repeatedly orders Jesse to stand up on his left leg, then his right leg as he struggles with his crutches. His legs tremble furiously, unable to support the weight of his body. At one point, the advisor asks the boy, "You've had a broken leg before?"

The two school nurses who were named by SRS for lack of supervision told a Salina police detective that they were "shocked to hear" that Jesse had suffered two broken legs, according to the police report obtained by AP through an open records request.

St. John's Military School said three independent investigations reached the same conclusion that allegations of physical abuse and medical neglect at St. Johns are untrue. Its own internal investigation found no such evidence. The Salina Police Department investigated and no criminal charges were filed. Now the SRS apparently reached the same conclusion.

The school contends the boy was injured in an accidental fall and treated by its nursing staff. As soon as the school realized the more serious nature of his injuries, Jesse was immediately transported to the hospital for treatment, the school said.

"Our hearts go out to Jesse and his family," St. John's president Andrew England said in a statement. "We are sympathetic to Jesse and continue to wish him well in recovery."

The Mactagones are among seven families of ex-cadets who sued St. John's in March alleging a culture of abuse at the school. Four more families asked last week to join the lawsuit. The plaintiffs _ who are from Colorado, Texas, California, Florida, Tennessee and Illinois _ allege in the lawsuit that St. John's allowed higher-ranking students, called "disciplinarians," to abuse younger ones, even in the presence of faculty members.

"We are happy that the SRS did its investigation, substantiated allegations that are in the Complaint and found clear and convincing evidence to support the definition of neglect," Dan Zmijewski, the attorney representing the families of the former cadets, said in an email.

The school has settled nine previous abuse lawsuits filed since 2006. This case is scheduled to go to trial in October 2013.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)