Gravel & Shea Attorneys Reach $4.5 million Settlement with State of Vermont in Case of Detention Center Abuse

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In December 2021, Brooks McArthur and David J. Williams filed suit on behalf of youth who were subjected to alleged widespread abuse and neglect at Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex, VT. The Complaint named multiple Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center staff as well as Ken Schatz, former commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families. The lawsuit’s nine counts included claims of excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, and retaliation against youths who reported abuse.

A year later, the State of Vermont agreed to pay $4.5 million to settle the lawsuit, with details finalized this month.

“These kids were the most vulnerable in the system with a significant history of trauma and they suffered at the hands of state employees who were charged with protecting them, caring for them, who instead tortured them,” McArthur said.

“As a result of defendants’ outrageous, unconstitutional and unlawful conduct, plaintiffs suffered serious physical and psychological injuries, both temporary and permanent, and are entitled to compensatory damages resulting from those injuries.” The lawsuit alleged the defendants used “objectively unreasonable, excessive, and conscience-shocking physical force.”

The lawsuit alleged that, between 2016 and 2020, youths detained at Woodside — and after that closed, the Middlesex Adolescent Center — were subject to “obscene abuse at the hands of state officials” responsible for their care and supervision.

“It is important that the stories of this abuse are exposed,” says McArthur. Despite the fact that Woodside is no longer operating, it is an issue that occurs in facilities across the country. Settling the case brings some amount of closure to the victims, but also awareness to this insidious problem.

Media coverage on this case can be found on VT Digger and WCAX.