Teen Reach founder fires back at state
By Michael Ferraresi
The Arizona Republic, April 3, 2004

Photo: Dave Seibert/The Arizona Republic

We're still in operation, Teen Reach founder Bobby Torres said during a church service Friday in Scottsdale.

Members of an evangelical Christian group rallied around their pastor Friday as he accused state officials of "abducting" eight adult church members and depriving them of their religious liberties.

Bobby Torres, a former gang member and founder of the Teen Reach program, also said he filed an appeal Friday to keep six drug and alcohol rehab facilities from being shut down.

"We're still in operation," Torres said Friday during a service at Teen Reach's church in the Scottsdale Airpark. "We're still taking children (as patients)."

State officials ordered Teen Reach's group homes to close after finding a child had been severely bruised in a "supervised spanking."

Teen Reach charges parents as much as $35,000 for six months of drug and alcohol rehabilitation in a faith-based, "cold-turkey" program that many parents regard as a last resort for their troubled teens.

On Friday, Torres accused state Child Protective Services workers of "abducting" eight adult Bible school students from a house on Thunderbird Road last month during the investigation into the spanking allegation.

He said eight adults, some as young as 18, were confronted by CPS workers during a Bible study at a Teen Reach house and were forced outside. In the process, he said, some were verbally and physically abused, and their faith was mocked.

Torres presented affidavits from all eight.

David Matthews, director of the Department of Economic Security licensing office, who ordered the homes shut down, said caseworkers did only what was necessary to investigate the abuse allegations against Teen Reach.

"These (Bible students) are people who simply refused to cooperate," Matthews said. "We had a list of children we were looking for. . . . I believe CPS, with the (Phoenix) police and with a court order, took the action necessary.

"Had (Teen Reach) cooperated, the adults would have never been removed, period."

Matthews said he ordered the homes shut down after CPS reported that four or more of the group's adults pinned a child to the ground, and another lay across the child's back, so a parent could administer a spanking.

"It has nothing to do with any belief system," Matthews said. "There is no agency in the state that is permitted to beat a child."

Torres said Friday that Teen Reach condones supervised spanking as a form of faith-based rehabilitation.

In addition to the group homes, Teen Reach has 15 other properties around the Valley that house graduates from the program, other ministers and students.

Those operations have not been affected.

More than 50 members of Teen Reach's evangelical community turned out to support Torres at the group's church at 7645 E. Evans Road in Scottsdale.

Parents, too, voiced their support.

Paul Rastello of Phoenix said his 12-year-old son was "transformed" after praying with Torres.

Rastello said Teen Reach's spanking methods taught him the "belief systems and the steps taken to nurture" his son, who had been placed in more than one rehabilitation program.

"You explain to your child what has happened, what the consequences are, you pray about it, and after the spanking is done, it's done," Rastello said. "We used to go out for dinner, go out for ice cream, do something different (after the spanking)."

Meanwhile, neighbors of two Teen Reach properties said the homes have caused disturbances for several years and should be shut down.

Bernard Anderson, who lives next to the Thunderbird Road property where the eight Bible students were confronted, said he and other neighbors worked with Phoenix to institute a parking ban next to what Teen Reach called "God's Favorite House."

"We couldn't get in and out of the driveway," Anderson said. "If we brought people over for Sunday dinner, they couldn't find any place to park."

Charlie Ferrell lives next to a Teen Reach property on East Sharon Drive that he claims is a commercial business illegally operating in a residential neighborhood.

Ferrell said he has photos of Teen Reach members unloading commercial printing equipment from a truck.

"It's a mess, no one would want to live across from it," Ferrell said. "There's 50 to 100 cars that drive over there every day."

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