(Ridgecrest, CA) New Horizons case goes to District
Attorney Poliches cited for violation of cease-and-desist order
By REBECCA NEIPP, News Review Staff Writer News Review (www.news-ridgecrest.com), April 18, 2001
Ridgecrest Police Department investigators have turned over all information regarding charges against New Horizons operators Catherine and Keith Polich to the District Attorney’s office.
RPD officials are seeking felony charges of physical abuse, mental abuse and attempting to dissuade victims.
New Horizons, a private boarding facility in Ridgecrest, was searched Feb. 28 by a multi-agency task force. California State Licensing officials served cease-and-desist orders to the Poliches, and the 14 students were removed from the premises.
Following the closing of the school, RPD investigators, lead by Det. Mike Sword, interviewed scores of neighbors, students, former students, parents and former staff of New Horizons. According to Sword, he had received responses from all over the U.S. and one from outside the country. Sword said that reports varied from support to opposition of the closing of the school.
Charges of physical abuse relate to the alleged beating of Caleb Owens, former student at New Horizons. Owens was allegedly tackled by Keith Polich in an attempt to run away from the school. In the process, Owens sustained injuries of a tooth broken off at the gumline, a broken thumb and multiple lacerations, abrasions and bruises.[Emphasis added.]
Charges of mental abuse against both Cathy and Keith Polich are sought for the abuse of a 7-year-old girl, who was apparently forced by the Poliches to eat her own vomit at the dinner table in the presence of other students.[Emphasis added.]
Another report of possible child abuse relates to a 14-year-old boy, who was allegedly forced to exercise outside in the winter, wearing only his underwear, while administrators and students hosed him down with water. [Emphasis added.]
Skaggs said that investigators have documented multiple eyewitness testimonies in all cases.
However, Skaggs noted that charges the RPD request and charges pressed by the DA will not necessarily be the same. “The DA’s office is actually responsible for proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.” He admitted that mental-abuse charges are more difficult to prove, since those charges must have documentation beyond eyewitness accounts, such as doctor’s reports.
Cathy Polich was served a citation March 21 for violating the Feb. 28 order. According to the citation, “Facility has continued to operate and a $1,000 civil penalty is assessed and a $200-per-day penalty shall continue until corrected.” According to sources in both the RPD, which sent an officer to keep the peace, and the state licencing office, Polich became argumentative and slammed the door. The order was left on the doorstep reading “refused to sign.”
“To my knowledge, she is not in violation in the city of Ridgecrest,” said Sgt. John Skaggs, who admitted he heard rumors that she had moved out of RPD jurisdiction but had no written documentation. According to Skaggs, Catherine Purcell of the Kern County District Attorney’s office has taken over the case. As of press time, Purcell had not returned News Review phone calls.