After a very lengthy investigation, three former operators of Saving Youth Foundation — a home for troubled youth — are now facing charges of aggravated child abuse.
Pastor John Young, Aleshia Moffett, and William Knott turned themselves in to Mobile Metro Jail after being indicted by a grand jury. The investigation was launched after several victims came forward with allegations of abuse back in March. One of those victims was 17-year-old Taylor Wagner. She claims she was placed in isolation for 22 days for writing her mom a letter for help.
“They would put you in handcuffs and shackles if they felt like they wanted to. Sometimes they would strip you down to your bra and underwear and you were in there for 24 hours a day. Sometimes they would barely let you out to use the restroom,” said Wagner.
Since then a total of 12 alleged victims have come forward — eight boys and four girls. According to officials none of them live in Mobile County and most live all over the country, which is why the investigation took so long.
Back in March, a day after more than 30 boys and girls were removed from the facility — Young gave FOX 10 News an exclusive tour — even showing us those isolation rooms. At the time, he told us the kids would say anything to get back out on the streets.
“I don’t really blame the kids. They want their freedom. They want to go smoke their pot and go out on the streets and go on Facebook and everything and a facility like this is a controlled environment,” said Young.
Despite the charges, Young still maintains his innocence and says the evidence will back his side of the story.
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich believes the charges are justified and said there was more than enough evidence to make the arrests.
After seeing the closet-like isolation rooms with chicken wire and locks on the outside, Rich said it is not only a violation of city fire codes but also very disturbing.
“The children were placed in solitary confinement for long periods of time. This was not a couple of hours in an isolation room to calm them down… these were extended periods of time – days, weeks, sometimes even months. There was also shackles that was used… handcuffs for extended periods of time. These children were placed in harms way and the allegations are very serious of aggravated child abuse,” said Rich.
Affiliated with Solid Rock Ministries, the Saving Youth Foundation fell under the church-run exception and was not regulated. Rich said that needs to change.
“They need to be regulated. Any facility that houses children needs to be regulated and there needs to be a very strict standard of care that is given when someone takes the responsibility to house and provide education and training of a young person. And with it should come high standards,” said Rich.
All three suspects face charges of aggravated child abuse. Young faces 12 counts, Moffett four counts, and Knott eight counts. If convicted, each charge carries two to 20 years of jail time.