New abuse allegations at Harmony Hill; School responds
Harmony Hill School claims to provide specialized program and services to students who have social, emotional, behavioral and learning needs.
It also claims to provide protective care in a safe, protective environment.
However, former student Andrew Anderson says that wasn't the case for him.
"They're all about beating you up, putting you down, and doping you up on pills so you sit there like a vegetable," said Anderson, who was sent to the school for a little more than two years in 2004.
Anderson told NBC 10 on Wednesday he was restrained twice and admitted he deserved it once. But he said restraint for some staffers was a chance to bully.
"When it got to the point where a restraint was coming, some of the staff would try to egg you on to get you to wild out so they would have to drop you and restrain you," he said.
Anderson said not all the staff were violent but said there were some staff he felt were kept around just to restrain kids because they were "big and scary looking."
"I've seen restraints that start out as just stand against the wall, and the kid just looks back like, 'What did I do?' and he's on the floor pinned by two guys twice his size. Some of the staff actually enjoyed restraining kids and it kind of sketched me out," he said.
Anderson reached out to NBC 10 after seeing our report on a woman who claims her 13-year-old son's arm was broken by school staff during a restraint on June 1.
The boy was placed at the school after he repeatedly ran away from group homes.
The boy's mother, Annabelle Alexander, said she has contacted a lawyer and wants to file a civil lawsuit against the school.
School officials told NBC 10 on Wednesday they categorically deny reports of alleged abuse. They said training is ongoing and procedures were correctly followed regarding Alexander's son's injury.
"While we continue to cooperate with all agencies that may be examining the allegations made relative the student at Harmony Hill School, we have - as we do with any incident that involves one of our students - thoroughly reviewed the facts. We are extremely confident that all appropriate state and federal regulations and protocols were followed and that our staff acted appropriately in a difficult situation. While we regret one of our students was injured in our care, our review of the circumstances makes us confident that all appropriate procedures were followed. We are proud of the work we have done to serve some of the more challenged children and their families in our state for the past 37 years," said Eric James, president and CEO of Harmony Hill.
However, Anderson said the school is protecting its reputation and says the students have nowhere to turn.
Anderson said when he tried to get help he felt other agencies were keeping investigations from starting.
"I used to tell my probation officer and my DCYF worker and my probation officer would try to look into it and the DCYF worker would tell her, 'No, everything is fine.' I almost feel like DCYF was trying to sweep it under the rug," he said.
"I really think DCYF should listen to the kids that are there and who say something's not right, something's going on, you should look at this and there are things that you are not doing, and this needs to stop because we're getting hurt or we're having problems. And kids are getting beat up and bruised and going to the hospital for things that shouldn't have happened."
Janice DeFrances, the current director of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families, came to the position after being president of Harmony Hill.
DCYF says it is still conducting an investigation into the broken arm incident.