Former worker of West Jordan youth center not surprised by riot

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WEST JORDAN, Utah -- Troubled teens from cities across the country come to the Copper Hills Youth Center to turn their lives around.

"The kids are coming from a pretty hard life," explained former Program Director Danny Pahulu.

After a Sunday evening riot, 10 of the patients are in deeper trouble with the law.

West Jordan Police said it started when several students refused to follow the rules.

"Staff tried to intervene. They acted out against them, started throwing things at the staff and then the staff called 911," said Sgt. Joe Monson, with West Jordan Police.

Police said students also destroyed parts of the building, like ceiling tiles and doors.

No one was seriously injured, officers and staff included.

Pahulu said when he heard news of the riot Monday morning, he wasn't surprised.

He's seen this kind of behavior first-hand, during his five years at Copper Hills.

"It was pretty bad," he said. "Me and a couple other staff were attacked."

Though, he added, it didn't happen very often.

These 12- to 17-year-old teens come from bad situations, he explained, and they're prone to act out.

"They use a lot of their anger issues, combativeness, kind of almost like bullying, to the point where they're basically challenging adult authority," he said.

After he left Copper Hills, Pahulu said he heard about several riots, but nothing like what happened on Sunday.

"It's probably the worst one they've ever had," he said.

In his experience, Pahulu said the teens' compliance comes down to the leadership they have. The staff undergoes training to keep their authority and handle these kinds of situations.

But successful leadership and authority can be difficult with the troubled youth.

"You're going to get some of those kids that are really, really challenging," Pahulu said.

The patients in this riot, ages 13 to 17 years old, are now in juvenile detention and face charges like assault on a peace officer, rioting and attempting to disarm an officer.

"They are serious charges," Monson said. "A couple of those charges are felonies and they can hold a pretty stiff penalty."

Originally, West Jordan Police reported the riot could have been planned. But Sgt. Monson said upon further investigation, they're not sure that's the case. They are still looking into it.

Sgt. Monson said detectives could hand out even more charges to other teens at the facility as they continue to investigate.

After several attempts to contact Copper Hills, CEO and Managing Director Rebekah Schuler sent an email statement that reads:

"Copper Hills Youth Center is a therapeutic residential treatment center providing specialized treatment for adolescents, ages 12 to 17 with behavioral, emotional, and mental health disorders. Our objective is to provide the highest quality of behavioral health treatment to our clients enabling them to return to their families and communities and lead productive lives.

On November 1st, there was an incident which required our staff to contact local authorities. All patients and staff are safe and the facility is collaborating with law enforcement and all appropriate regulatory agencies."

4 comments

  • DAN GRAY

    When these kids chose to misbehave there are consequences that involve being moved to a juvenile detention center. From there is is just a short journey to the Point of the Mountain.

  • Jim C

    As a former employee of this facility with close friends still working there I can tell everyone that this is the worst there’s been. However this was something staff have seen coming for awhile now. Copperhills takes kids that no facility wants and then removes any assemblance of authority from there staff placing safety and comfort of the residents over safety of their staff. At the time of the riot the building was 6 staff short of meeting state required ratio. It is state law to have one staff for every 5 residents in order to ensure facility wide safety. So that is 30 kids unaccounted for. The day of this report they were 9 staff short. This is an ongoing issue that has not been corrected at copperhills for years now. So while this is shocking and troubling for everyone involved. Copperhills has been managed in such a way that it’s shocking this only just now took place. The training mentioned in this video consists of taking new hires and having them watch videos for a few days then one day of practical development in restraint techniques. Then once they’re on the floor only a handful of staff are comfortable handling the frequent crisis situations that occur and those staff are quickly held accountable for policing the entire building. However if handled poorly, run the risk of termination and charges from DCFS (division of child and family services). So there is a genuine fear to intervene. Compound this with inadequate staffing and it’s a powder keg, and a dangerous place for anybody, staff or resident a like. Also, the administration of this building are simply trying to save their jobs in that email statement. A staff was assaulted with a chair and is being evaluated for a concussion and another has a black eye. I guess the CEO may see that as safe. But, then again I suppose she’s seen the building as safe through the chronic mismanagement. A lot of great work has been done for the children of this facilty through the years and there are some fantastic staff there that genuinely care about the kids and their success. However, this is a dangerous place to work for embattled employees that only now have a chance to speak out against this place. Some will come out and defend it, but the truth is the staff here in large part feel trapped and simply don’t want to lose their job. Those fortunate to have left, miss the kids, but can look back and see a facilty that drasically needs to change or close it’s doors.

    • ANOTHERBOB

      Thank you for the insightful information. Is sounds like somebody is going to have to get killed before somebody gets serious about maintaining law and order at this facility. Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, doesn’t tolerate misbehavior in his jail. He’d straighten this mess up in less than 24 hours.

    • Jac

      Wow! You nailed it right on. I also am a former employee of the facility. I was there about 9 years before I quit. I’ve been involved in a riot similar to this where kids violently attacked staff. I myself received a concussion. To be candid, that statement email from the CEO is a bunch of BS. that’s their way of hiding what really happened. The place is always understaffed. They hire but the staff, after training her involved with things like this and they quit because it was not what they expected. I had the respect of the kids on my unit when I was there. And because of that I lost some respect from staff. This type of stuff happens between staff all the time. This type of staff drama affects the kids and they take total advantage of it. Some staff were jealous of the respect I received. But some of these staff provoked the kids to. I’ve personally seen staff belittle some of the residents. I never felt backed up from the staff I worked with. If fact the opposite. Lies were conjured up which higher management believed. It’s not a safe place to work. Google more stories about this riot. You’ll be surprised

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