First came news that the DCF had "serious concerns about the safety and welfare of children" who enrolled at the Victory Forge Military Academy. Then came news that the State Attorney's Office has decided not to pursue criminal charges against the academy. To those not familiar with the ways of the criminal justice system, the the burden of proof would be on the State Attorney to prove that the Colonel and his minions were guity beyond a reasonable doubt - something not easy to do in a system that is as opaque as Victory Forge. So in the end, VF lives to fight another day, but this time there will be people like us keeping them honest and telling the world of their escapades.
Port St. Lucie Victory Forge Military Academy for troubled boys out of trouble
By Will Greenlee Wednesday, June 11, 2008
PORT ST. LUCIE — The State Attorney's Office has decided not to pursue criminal charges against the operators of the Victory Forge Military Academy, a private school for troubled teenage boys, after reviewing a police investigation that began after a student ran away from the facility in shackles.
Assistant State Attorney Jeff Hendriks said in a memo released Tuesday that even though the student was in shackles for about 12 days "there is nothing that rises to the level of criminal activity at this point."
State Department of Children and Families investigators asked parents in late April to remove their children from the school while they looked into a child abuse claim, and three have since returned.
Victory Forge has adopted state Department of Juvenile Justice policies in terms of restraining juveniles, employing restraints to "secure juveniles that pose a threat of running away" as opposed to using them as punishment. Hendriks wrote while Victory Forge violated the Department of Juvenile Justice shackling policies, it wasn't a criminal matter.
Alan Weierman, Victory Forge commanding officer, said Victory Forge officials allow enrollees to have their shackles removed by asking. In the referenced case, the teen was asked that the shackles be taken off, but when Victory Forge officials asked if he'd run if they were removed, he said yes. This, Weierman said, is why the shackles were not removed.
The youth eventually ran away with the shackles on and got more than three miles away before Victory Forge staff members found him and called police.
There also wasn't enough probable cause to support allegations of a battery. Hendriks stated it would be difficult to prove another alleged case of battery in which the same student was reportedly "touched on the face with residue that has been wiped from the toilet area."
After DCF completed its probe into Victory Forge, DCF Circuit 19 Administrator Vern Melvin said, "We have concerns about the safety of the children there." The findings are confidential by state law, and while Melvin said there were several other reported victims of alleged abuse at Victory Forge, he declined to elaborate.
In spite of the allegations, Victory Forge sent out about 30 applications to parents who've requested them after seeing the recent news coverage, Weierman said.
"We're going to continue forward," Weierman said. "There is no abuse here. It's a tough program. It's made to be tough."