Universal Health Services: Former Provo Canyon School Patient Files Federal Suit Alleging Torture and Sexual Abuse

August 18, 2021

A school for troubled teens where Paris Hilton says she was abused has been sued over the alleged 'torture' and 'sexual abuse' of another student.

Aaron Ross was 13 when he was sent to Provo Canyon School in Utah in 2001, where he claims a staff member forced him to perform oral sex on them a dozen times under threat of starvation, locked him in solitary confinement for weeks, and made him sit for weeks at a desk facing the wall.

Brooklyn, New York-based Ross, 33, is now suing the school, its owner, and three staff members in a federal lawsuit filed last week in the eastern district of New York.

The lawsuit accuses the school of practicing 'a myriad of maltreatment including physical, verbal and sexual abuse, chemical sedation and isolation, vigorous labor, the use of physical restraints, food and sleep deprivation and humiliation, amongst others, some of which the Geneva Convention banned as being too extreme for prisoners of war.'

The treatment facility for troubled teens has faced previous accusations of abuse, most notably by Paris Hilton, who has launched a campaign to shut the school down

It said Provo Canyon is among the “worst of the worst” of allegedly abusive schools, highlighting Hilton's campaign to tighten laws monitoring institutions for troubled teens, her alleged abuse at Provo Canyon, and hundreds of police and regulator investigations there over assaults, sex offences and child abuse since 2012.

The legal papers, filed by Ross's attorneys Peter Gleason and Daniel Isaacs, say Ross had a history of Asperger's syndrome and behavioral problems while living with his parents in Brooklyn as a child.

A consultancy, the Goldberg Center, received $10,000 from Provo Canyon to refer Ross there without interviewing him according to the lawsuit, and early one morning in May 2001, he was “removed from his home without warning in handcuffs by three armed guards” and flown to the institution.

Ross claims he was “strip searched” on arrival, “kept isolated for several days” and seen by a psychiatrist for “no more than two minutes before being placed on a daily cocktail of drugs without receiving a diagnosis or written plan of treatment.”

The drugs included Seroquel, Depakote, Trileptal and Celexa.

The legal complaint says Ross spent the next two years indoors without breathing fresh air or feeling sunlight.

The school's “punishment” and “brutality” inflicted on Ross included daily “verbal, mental and physical abuse,” “food and sleep deprivation for days at a time,” “days or weeks in a row sitting at a desk facing the wall except for bathroom breaks and sleeping,” the lawsuit states.

Ross identified his alleged abuser as Provo staffer Justin Uale, who he claims forced him to undress and give him oral sex a dozen times under threat of starvation

Ross was “placed for days and sometimes weeks at a time in what was known as the 'observation room,' a small bare windowless cement room bereft of any furniture or carpeting for the floor.”

While in the “observation room,” Uale forced him to undress and give him oral sex a dozen times, Ross claimed – saying that he would be starved of food and sleep if he refused.

When Ross complained to his therapist at the school, Wendy Turnbow, about the alleged sexual abuse she called him a “liar,” told him to “shut up” and wrote him up, the federal lawsuit claimed.

Ross experienced “multiple mental, emotional and psychological problems due to the sexual and physical abuse” after his release from the institution in April 2003, he claimed.

He spent six months in the hospital over the trauma and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ross's lawsuit detailed a long history of abuse allegations at the state and federal government-funded institution dating back to the 1980s.

In the 80s and 90s the school was accused in class action lawsuits of violent discipline including a technique called “the hair dance” in which teens were “dragged around by their hair.”

In 1999 Hilton spent 11 months in Provo age 17, during which she claimed she was abused.

The socialite slammed the institution in her 2020 documentary This Is Paris and succeeded in pushing for new, tighter regulation on schools for troubled teens.

Testifying to Utah lawmakers in February this year, the hotel heiress said she was “verbally, mentally and physically abused on a daily basis” at Provo Canyon.

“I was cut off from the outside world and stripped of all of my human rights. I was not allowed to be myself, hold my own opinions or even speak. Without a diagnosis I was forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted. I didn't breathe fresh air or see the sunlight for 11 months,” she said.

“Children were restrained, hit, thrown into walls, strangled and sexually abused regularly at Provo… I could not report this because all communication with my family was monitored and censored.

“That was the worst of the worst… There's no getting out of there. You're sitting on a chair and staring at a wall all day long, getting yelled at or getting hit.”

In 2000 the then-school owner, Charter Behavioral Health Systems, filed bankruptcy after paying a $7 million fine over Medicaid fraud allegations, and the school was bought by Universal Health Services.

Universal has said it is unable to comment on alleged abuse before it owned the institution – but the “torture” continued for the next two decades, according to Ross' lawsuit.

The legal papers cited government records showing that “between 2015 and 2020 Utah's Office of Licensing conducted 341 investigations at Provo's four campuses, substantiating twenty-seven violations.”

There were also hundreds of police callouts to the campuses since 2012.

“Between January 3, 2012 and September 16, 2019, police responded to Provo's Springville campus 239 times to reports that included 43 assaults, 20 sex offenses, and a sexual assault,” the lawsuit said.

Police responded to the Provo campus 182 times to reports that included “28 assaults 26 sex offenses, 24 sexual assaults and, 11 abuse of child.”

In an interview with DailyMailTV earlier this year, Ross claimed he reported the alleged abuse to police but was ignored for years.

He said he got so frustrated feeling the authorities were not listening to his claims that he sent threats to two Utah legislators.

“I will strangle you with my bare hands,” Ross wrote in an email to Utah Representative Adam Robertson.

“I will tie your legs up with a metal weight. And I will sink your body to the bottom of Utah Lake. Nobody will be able to find you.”

Prosecutors charged him with two counts of second-degree felony terroristic threats in December.

“Ross made the threats when his demands that the legislators cause investigations, prosecutions or other legal action against Provo Canyon School did not occur,” the charging documents said.

Ross' attorney, Peter Gleason, told DailyMail.com that his alleged abuse “impacted Aaron's perception of when or how to set boundaries” and that his threats to lawmakers were “a direct result of the trauma he suffered while at the Provo Canyon School.”

“While some of the language Aaron used in his emails to Utah State Representatives Robertson and Ray may be shocking, it is pale in comparison to the abuse Aaron and numerous others have suffered and reported, while at the Provo Canyon School, only to be ignored,” Gleason said.

“After years of abuse he feels as though he is reliving that abuse by having his pleas for assistance ignored by the very entities designed to protect him.”

Source: Josh Boswell, “EXCLUSIVE: Utah school for troubled teens where Paris Hilton says she was assaulted is sued for 'torture' and 'sexual abuse' by former student who claims male staffer forced him to undress and perform oral sex a dozen times when he was 13,” Daily Mail, Aug. 12, 2021, URL: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9877811/Utah-school-Paris-Hilton-claims-abused-sued-student-sex-torture.html  

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