Death Camp

Such promises would be dubious grounds for keeping Boys Ranch open, even if the abuse that led to Nicholaus' death were unusual. Just how many deaths should an institution be allowed?

All reports I read make it clear that the only unusual thing about this incident is that a child died. In a chilling sentence, the California report remarks that the fluid in his lungs probably came from inhaling his own vomit from the bucket he was forced to carry around and do push-ups over.

I called Bob Thomas to ask how he could justify his reaction to his license renewal being denied. He didn't seem to think he had to justify it.

"Nicholaus Contreraz passed away from a medical problem, which I'm not an expert on," he told me. "It was a tragic aberration. But there's nothing we can do to bring him back."

He added that he considered publication of the autopsy pictures to be "in very poor taste."

Wasn't beating the kid in even poorer taste?
It didn't happen, according to Thomas.
"Nobody beat him. He was given CPR for an hour in rocky terrain. I don't know if you've ever given CPR, but there are going to be some marks."

All over his body? From head to toe?
In Thomas' world, every criticism of his institution is politically motivated. While admitting that he hasn't read the California report, Thomas claims it was constructed to make Boys Ranch look bad.

A teenage boy died alone and in a kind of misery that those he left behind can only try to imagine. Bob Thomas runs the institution responsible for that boy's well-being. And it's everyone's fault except Thomas'. The kid's mother, probation officer, the California authorities--they are all apparently somehow to blame for what happened, though Thomas doesn't say why. This kind of denial of personal responsibility is more commonly expected from the inmates of a correctional facility than from its president.

Despite having had its license renewal turned down, Boys Ranch can continue to operate. Its current license is valid while Thomas appeals the DES decision.

While vitriolic about DES, Thomas also says, "I hope we can work this thing out with DES. We don't plan on closing. Our main goal is to help kids. We have a commitment to these kids."

Justice wouldn't be served by the closure of Boys Ranch. It wouldn't be nearly enough. If a citizen kills someone, we don't merely take the weapon away from him. We prosecute him and make him pay.

And this is what needs to happen to Boys Ranch.
And it might, according to Charles Ratcliffe of Pinal County Attorney's Office.

"We're considering it," he says. "We should know in a couple of weeks whether there will be criminal charges, and against whom."

In the light of his attitude, Bob Thomas ought to be charged as an accessory. In criminal trials, the attitude of the perpetrator has a strong bearing on sentencing. A lack of remorse brings a harsher sentence. And for Thomas to blithely dismiss a boy's cruel death, and go on with his business, is beyond arrogance.

It is criminal, and prosecutors should treat it as such. Justice will only be served when Thomas and his former employees are made to answer to a jury.

And, if they're found criminally responsible, the penalties should be severe. And the word "neglect" should only be used in passing.

Because neglect is passive. Torture is not.
Thomas has said, "It comes to this: Who do you believe, the staff or the kids?"

I believe a dead kid covered in abrasions.
And it appears I'm not alone. As New Times went to press on Tuesday, it was announced that Boys Ranch's board of directors has placed Bob Thomas on administrative leave.

Contact Barry Graham at his online address:

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