Former YRTC residents in Geneva, parents sue DHHS over alleged rights violations

LINCOLN, Nebraska (Nebraska) — Photographs of the YRTC Geneva Center submitted to federal court in 2019 show dirty and damaged facilities, maintenance work in progress, missing tile ceilings and exposed wires.

Conditions A 10/11 Nebraska woman, now anonymous to protect her daughter’s identity, said she started hearing about it on the phone as soon as her daughter entered the institution.

“I heard from my daughter and other girls who contacted me about mold, rats, holes and walls, water damage, trench work,” said the mother. “The wires were exposed wires that were used to pull the girls out of the walls to hurt themselves, and the staff, you know, kind of left their jobs.”

These claims were backed up by a 2021 review body report prepared by Nebraska’s Office of the Inspector General of Child Welfare Services. They are also part of the reason why a mother, another parent, and four girls who lived there sued DHHS administrators in federal court.

Plaintiffs represents ACLU scout Richters of Nebraska. She said the lawsuit was filed over a year ago, but they have been monitoring the situation since it came to light in 2019.

“The state has made a commitment to take these girls into custody and provide services to them, knowing that they need intense, intense services, in some cases for their safety,” Richters said. “And instead of making good on that commitment, they let these girls down again and again.”

The mother said that those first complaints were not what she expected from a program designed to help her child.

“I was very worried, upset and curious as to why she was placed in such a place,” she said.

But the pictures only show part of the story. The lawsuit also alleges that the girls did not have educational or mental health programs and that they were held in solitary confinement.

“We talk about days, sometimes weeks,” Richters said. “Where the girls were placed in detention and had no access to a toilet, water or electricity and were forced to stay in those rooms again for days and weeks.”

The lawsuit alleges that DHHS CEO Dannett Smith, juvenile services administrator Mark Labouchardier, former juvenile services administrator Trevor Spiegel, and former facility administrator Dan Scarborough violated the girls’ rights under the eighth and fourteenth amendments.

“The Eighth Amendment is against protection from cruel and unusual punishment,” Richters said. “And then the 14th Amendment is a due process requirement. And both of them work to state common things about the conditions and what the girls have experienced at the hands of the state.”

11.10 Now contacted DHHS for comment on the claim. A spokesman said: “The Department has no right to comment on the pending litigation.”

An earlier report from Oct. 11 now shows many changes have been made to the YRTC system, including the closure of YRTC in Geneva and the opening of a new facility in Hastings, but the lawsuit says the damage continues.

“She still has a lot of evidence of trauma, trust issues, nightmares,” the mother said.

The purpose of the lawsuit is to provide the girls with the resources they need to heal this trauma and hold administrators accountable for alleged wrongdoing.

“I want justice for all the girls who were there. I want to make sure no child ever goes through something like this again,” the woman said. “I want to make sure the system changes so kids don’t hurt them.”

In September, a federal judge decided to allow the constitutional rights claim to be heard. Right now, the ACLU is working on the next steps in the case, such as scheduling testimonial and discovery dates.

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