A 14-year-old Wilkinsburg boy has sued the Pressley Ridge Foundation, claiming that counselors at the group's Ohiopyle camp threw him to the ground and broke both of his arms while restraining him.
Larrel Dallas filed suit in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, a result of a Feb. 20 incident. He said counselors broke his arms while pulling them back.
"I heard my arms snap," Dallas said in an interview last month. "It felt like someone cut my arms off or something."
While held face down in the dirt, he said he couldn't breathe. "The only thing I was thinking of is 'Am I going to die?' " [Emphasis added]
Officials of Pressley Ridge, which houses abused and neglected children, said yesterday they hadn't seen the complaint and wouldn't comment if they had.
However, in a letter to the Post-Gazette two weeks ago discussing incidents at Pressley Ridge facilities like the Ohiopyle camp, Janet C. Emery, president and chief development officer, said Dallas' injury "is particularly distressing to Pressley Ridge because of our commitment to putting the safety of our children first."
Emery denied in the letter that both of the boy's arms were broken. The child's lawyers, Joseph R. Petrina and Brian C. Thompson of Penn Hills, said, however, that medical records clearly show the youngster suffered two fractures.
Doctors at Uniontown Hospital immobilized both of the boy's arms in casts, preventing him from feeding himself or performing other basic care functions for himself.
Emery says in the letter that staff members restrained Dallas to thwart him from injuring another child: "This occurred as the staff conducted a passive restraint to prevent the young man from committing a violent act toward a defenseless child or harming himself in the process."
Dallas tells a different story. He says the boy Emery describes as defenseless had punched him in the face, knocking him the ground.
He said when he got up, dizzy and stumbling, he told the other boy not to ever hit him again. In the meantime, Pressley Ridge counselors had restrained the boy who punched Dallas.
At that point, Dallas said, some of the other boys in the group began attacking him. Counselors pulled them away.
Dallas said a counselor tackled him, then, with the help of others, restrained him on the ground, face down.
Dallas said one of the staff members pulled his arms up behind him, crossing them over his back and forcing them up to his head.
"At first I was kicking because he was hurting my arms," Dallas said. But then, he said, a staff member jumped on his legs and he could not move, and his arms went numb.
When the staff members released him, Dallas said they dismissed his complaints of pain in his arms. They made him walk back to camp, and there, he said, they told him to pick up trash. "They thought I was playing a game or something."
Sometime later, Dallas said, the staff arranged for him to see an emergency medical technician, who said Pressley Ridge needed to take him to a hospital.
A report about the incident written by Pressley Ridge for the state Department of Public Welfare says after a boy knocked Dallas to the ground, Dallas got up and threatened to kill the other youth.
That was followed by a scuffle between Dallas and several of the other boys, while counselors restrained the child who had decked Dallas, the report says.
Counselors ordered the youngsters to disperse, and all did but Dallas who "attempted to kick and hit those around him," it says.
That is when "a restraint was initiated by staff," the report says, adding, "The restraint was difficult due to his attempts to stand up and free himself and the loose coat he had on at the time."
The lawsuit says Pressley Ridge counselors used "unreasonable and excessive force," and his injuries were a result of its negligence.
(Barbara White Stack can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1878.)
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