CODY — A class-action lawsuit with roughly 25 members and hundreds more eligible is seeking millions of dollars in retribution from Trinity Teen Solutions and Triangle Cross Boys Ranch of Clark on charges of human trafficking and abuse. TTS is run by Angela and Jerry Woodward. TCR is run by Angela’s father Jerry Schneider.
The allegations include two counts of forced labor, trafficking, racketeering, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The main allegation in the complaint involves the claim the defendants profited from services performed through the unpaid labor and abusive conditions forced upon internees at both Trinity Teen and Triangle Cross. The nature of this alleged abusive treatment included forced silence for weeks at a time; heavily restricted bathroom access; food and sleep deprivation; unqualified therapists; and unheated living quarters.
Schneider said he was unaware of the filing when reached by phone Sunday night, but said the charges are “absolutely ridiculous.”
“Trinity denies these allegations, we have never used our patients to do forced or unpaid labor,” Angela Woodward said. “The population that we work with at our program are a very difficult and high risk population of patients. They have had many treatment failures prior to parents sending them to Trinity as a last resort to help their daughter.”
Woodward also denied claims of abuse and said all related claims have already been investigated and unsubstantiated.
Trinity is a Christian-based residential treatment center for troubled girls, according to its website. Its programs include therapy, Christian and Catholic counseling, trauma counseling and academic schooling. The website says it has a 1:5 staff-to-patient ratio at its 4,000-acre ranch, serving girls 12-17-years old.
Triangle Cross is described on its website as a 50,000-acre working ranch and farm for troubled boys, ages 10-17. The tasks the boys are given at the ranch are described as “reality therapy.”
“Struggling boys desire to feel needed. They need to believe that they are important to the day-to-day well-being of their family,” Jerry Schneider said on the website. “On the ranch, they learn quickly that they are vitally important to the ranch family.”
The 109-page complaint and request for a jury trial was filed in Wyoming Federal Court on Wednesday by Memphis civil rights attorneys Brice Timmons and Frank Watson. Also representing the plaintiffs in this case are Cheyenne attorneys Michael Rosenthal and Nathan Nicholas of Hathaway & Kunz LLP.
Other defendants listed on the complaint and those also accused of benefiting from the unpaid ranching-related labor are the Diocese of Cheyenne, Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, Rock Creek Ranch Inc., Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, Mystic Monk Coffee, Dally-Up LLC, New Mount Carmel Foundation Inc., five members of the Schneider family, four members of the Woodward family, Judith Jefferis and Thomas George.
The complaint alleges Jefferis and RCR benefited from free labor after selling the current TTS land to Angela Woodward. This labor is alleged to have included fence repair, cattle branding, tagging cattle, cattle drives and stacking hay.
Daniel Schneider, Angela Woodward’s brother, is accused of requesting labor at his Monks of the Most Blessed monastery in Powell and would transport TCR residents there for forced labor. He did not respond for comment.
Similar activities are alleged to have occurred with the Diocese of Cheyenne and SOLT. Kara and Kyle Woodward are said to have benefited from forced labor and human trafficking while employees at TTS, and likewise Mathew and Mark Schneider at TCR.
Only four plaintiffs are listed on the case, none current Wyoming residents. These individuals – Carlie Sherman, Anna Gozun, Amanda Nash, and a “John Doe” – are alleged to have been former residents at the Trinity Teen Solutions and Triangle Cross.
The plaintiffs are seeking an amount of no less than $5 million. They are demanding $16.31 per hour of labor for the first 40 hours per week and $24.47 per hour for every hour afterwards. The complaint says at least 100 class members were unlawfully forced to work an average of 11.5 hours per day.
They are also requesting any sums that TTS and TCR were paid during the residents’ stay, typically ranging from $6,000-$9,000 per month.
In addition, restitutionary damages are being requested in the amount of $780 per day.
According to the filing, the “troubled teen industry” is prevalent throughout the United States and is particularly problematic in rural areas where oversight of facilities is more difficult. Timmons said this lawsuit is the first of its kind in U.S. history and expects this case to be a landmark impetus to similar legal filings into the future.
“It’s a billion-dollar-per-year industry with thousands of people checked annually into unsafe, therapeutic industries selling parents too-good-to-be-true solutions to their children’s problems,” Timmons said, finding only rare scenarios where this type of therapy can work. “It’s unbelievable to me how many turn out to be work camps.”
The complaint says using “reality therapy” to describe tasks and chores issued to inmates at both Trinity and Triangle Cross was merely a fraudulent cover for abuse.
“It has nothing to do with giving someone a ‘dose of reality’ or the threat of punishment,” the complaint said.
Timmons said winning any of the monetary sums demanded may be an uphill battle.
Angela Woodward provided documents to the Enterprise in 2019, showing her facility had been investigated on claims of unacceptable forms of punishment and behavioral control; neglecting to provide proper medical care; failing to provide adequate food and water; fostering humiliation; restricting communications; providing inadequate education; and abuse in 2011 and 2018. Both investigations performed by the Wyoming Department of Family Services found the claims unsubstantiated.
“These allegations have been investigated numerous times by our licensing agency the Wyoming Department of Family Services and have been found unsubstantiated,” Angela Woodward said. “The district attorney has also had this brought to him and we have been cooperative with him and the DCI on their investigation for the last 20 months. I can assure you if any of these allegations were remotely accurate our licensure would be voided, and the State would shut us down immediately and take these kids out of our program.”
Timmons said he and his staff have interviewed more than 30 former residents and employees of Triangle and Trinity living in 15-20 different states.
“Once you have enough witnesses saying the same thing … I have a very hard time believing this number of people with this variety of backgrounds are all trying to lie to bring these people down,” Timmons said. “What are the odds? These people have no reason to be in contact with each other. The rational thing or irrational thing they’d want to do is move on.”
He also plans to call a forensics psychologist and other experts as his witnesses in the trial.
The plaintiffs will also aim to show certain defendants worked together as a knowing enterprise in order to justify the racketeering charge.
In March 2019, at least 13 reports of mistreatment and abuse were made to the Park County Sheriff’s Office by people who spent time at Trinity Teen Solutions in Clark. This case is still being investigated by the Park County Attorney’s Office.
Woodward denied those charges at the time and criticized those making them for hiding behind anonymity.
“They make these collective reports anonymously in an effort to insulate themselves, so that they can try to destroy Trinity without any possibility of recourse against them,” she said. “This is an obvious calculated, collective, malicious intent by these individuals to get the media to take note so that they can succeed in their ongoing attacks to slander and defame Trinity’s good reputation.”