State Denies Claims Of ‘Sadistic Levels Of Cruelty’ At Wyoming Boys’ School

Three young men formerly incarcerated at the Wyoming Boys' School are now suing, claiming they were subjected to “sadistic levels of cruelty” while there, allegations the state Department of Family Services denies.

CM
Clair McFarland

February 28, 202410 min read

The Wyoming Boys' School in Worland.
The Wyoming Boys' School in Worland. (Sletten Construction)

Three young men are suing a Wyoming facility for juvenile delinquents, its umbrella agency and several employees on claims they were beaten, taunted, humiliated, unnecessarily confined and denied access to needed education and treatment.  

Blaise Chivers-King, Debra Dever on behalf of her son Dylan Tolar, and Charles “Rees” Karn filed a federal lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming, against the Wyoming Department of Family Services, the Wyoming Boys’ School in Worland, and several facility employees.

Karn, now about 20, was convicted last year of murdering his girlfriend, Phoenix Cerenil, and sentenced to life in prison.

DFS Says Absolutely Not

The plaintiffs claim the agency and facility — and all the sued employees — discriminated against them for having disabilities in violation of federal law.

They accuse now-director of the boys’ home, Dale Weber, of violating their due process rights. And they accuse other employees of deliberate indifference to their medical needs, using excessive force and unlawful restraints, and depriving them of basic human needs.

The Wyoming Department of Family Services, which oversees the facility and placement of boys in it, denied the allegations.

“The Department refutes any allegations of wrongdoing,” a DFS spokesman wrote in a Wednesday email to Cowboy State Daily. “We look forward to formally responding to the complaint and having our day in court.”

First, ‘Rees’

Charles “Rees” Karn, of Cheyenne, accuses boys’ school staffers of taunting him, strapping him to a chair for up to 12 hours a day, subjecting him to “sadistic levels of cruelty,” giving him the silent treatment, shoving his face in shattered glass and other abuses.

Karn has diagnoses for depression, attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, impulse control and conduct disorder, says the complaint.

His first stint at the boys’ school was in eighth grade, for two years. He stayed there until he was 16 and went home to his family. But soon after, he returned, the complaint says.

An evaluating psychologist had laid out a plan involving counseling for Karn, where he was to be given limits but not with “hostility or rejection,” and should be given predictable and consistent routines, among other guardrails, the document continues.

Karn alleges that instead, security guard Thad Shaffer and other staff members taunted him, saying, “Oh you like being touched by grown men,” and other statements to provoke him and then restrain him.

Karn also claims personnel placed him in solitary confinement about 30 times, for up to 30 days and 45 days on two of those occasions.

“He spent 24 hours per day alone until one staff member eventually spoke up to say that he needed to be let out for at least one hour a day for exercise,” says the complaint. “Even on the occasions that he was allowed to go to recreation, he was not permitted any meaningful human interaction.”

The complaint says he was denied therapy and education.

At one point when Dorm 2 (there are reportedly four dorms at the facility) was closed because of budget shortfalls, staffers made Karn stay there alone, the complaint alleges.

The dorm staffers would allegedly confine him to a restraint chair, strapping his wrists, ankles and waist so he couldn’t move for up to 12 hours a day.

Karn’s complaint claims he lost weight because the staffers were starving him.

Shattered Glass

During a 45-day confinement period, Karn started breaking light bulbs in his detention room and destroying things, the document says.

Several staffers entered and tackled him, the complaint continues. Dorm staffer John Schwalbe “forcefully shoved Rees’ face into the glass,” the document claims. “While holding Rees’ face in the shattered glass, Schwalbe told him, ‘You want to break shit at our facility, this is what you are going to get.’”

Another defendant, Shaffer, allegedly broke Karn’s wrist. Karn’s complaint claims staffers wouldn’t let him have medical care because they believed he was too aggressive.

When a whistleblower raised concerns with DFS, a doctor examined him and determined his wrist was broken, the document says. It adds: “Even after the staff broke Rees’ wrist, they continued to physically restrain him in the restraint chair.”

Karn grew desperate and tried to hang himself, the complaint alleges. It claims dorm staffer Kevin McGenty walked in to find Karn hanging himself from the fire suppression system, but at first did nothing about it until Karn lost consciousness.

‘Explosive Anger’

Blaise Chivers-King stayed at the boys’ school twice, from April 2020 until March 2021, and again from May 2021 until the following May, says his complaint.

He also says he has several mental health and emotional disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety, depression and “explosive anger.”

The complaint says Chivers-King had an individualized education plan requiring one-on-one instruction with a special education teacher. He claims boys’ school personnel put him in a classroom with others anyway.

Chivers-King alleges that staffers “intentionally provoked (him) in ways that they knew would manifest symptoms of his disabilities, giving the staff an excuse to restrain him and place him in solitary confinement.”

Staffers would mock and humiliate him in front of his peers, the complaint alleges. He’d fire back by screaming profanities.

On his 18th birthday, staff “intentionally provoked Blaise so they could call the sheriff to send him to adult jail” by throwing him against a wall, the complaint alleges.

Chivers-King was sent to solitary confinement, being allowed out of his detention room for four- to eight-minute stretches to take a shower, the document says.

He claims staff bound him with “improper restraints” and slammed him around, held his head against a wall, and threw him to the floor.

Security guard Mark Nelson “also caused Blaise’s hands to go purple because he administered restraints improperly,” the documents says.

When he complained of his injuries, staffers allegedly laughed at him.

Chivers-King claims the facility’s head nurse prescribed him too much of a new medication, to which his brain had to adjust, and abruptly stopped other medications rather than weaning him off them.

Distraught, he ripped out the metal braces on his teeth and cut himself; he tied a noose with ripped up clothing, but failed to kill himself, says the document.

Dorm director Mike Nelson “mocked him” for failing at suicide, the complaint alleges.

Chivers-King has failed to graduate from high school or get his GED. He claims the boys’ school deprived him of meaningful education to cause this.

Sexual Behavior Counseling

Dylan Tolar was transferred to the boys’ school from a different facility June 22, 2020, when he was 17, says the complaint.

He reportedly has birth defects including cerebral palsy, neurocognitive disabilities, a hole in his brain, and a dysfunction requiring him to wear a leg brace since he was 2 years old.

He also has diagnoses for ADHD, epilepsy, executive function disorder and autism, the complaint says.

On Tolar’s first night at the boys’ school, he encountered a metal toilet in his room. He asked staffers to help him learn how to work it, but they told him to figure it out from his handbook, the complaint says.

He kept asking for help.

“Shut the f*** up and go back to sleep,” a staffer answered, allegedly.

Staffers threatened to restrain him if he asked for help again, the complaint claims.

He soiled his pants.

Dorm director Elsa Olson called Tolar’s mother the next day and asked if he needed diapers because he was “shitting his pants,” the document says.

Tolar’s mother was surprised: he’d never needed diapers or had soiling problems, reportedly.

Tolar was sent to the boys’ school to get sexual behavior counseling, the complaint says. It says he only participated in one such program.

The document claims staffers isolated Tolar in a cinderblock-walled room with a twin-size mattress on the ground, a metal door, a single window and no toilet or sink.

“Staff routinely made Dylan hold his bladder and bowels by making him wait long periods of time before they would let him out of his cell to use the restroom,” the document says, adding that Tolar developed a bladder infection from holding his urine.

He coped with the isolation by talking to himself or playing different characters, the complaint says.

Tolar’s neighbor, next to the confinement room, hit the walls and screamed.

“Shut the f*** up or I’ll make you,” Schwalbe allegedly told the other boy. The boy didn’t stop, so Schwalbe allegedly slammed him to the round and put him in mechanical restraints resembling a straitjacket.

Tolar started having grand mal seizures, his first in 12 years, according to his complaint.

‘Slow Zombie’

The complaint accuses Schwalbe of calling Tolar a “slow zombie” and “clown,” making fun of his lame gait or partially paralyzed face. It also claims Schwalbe spit in Tolar’s face when Tolar was being “too slow.”

The complaint claims Olson would tell Tolar’s mother that Tolar didn’t like her anymore, and would tell Tolar that his mother did not love him anymore and he’d have no where to go when released.

Staffers called him “f***ing pathetic” and told him he’d always be a “child molester,” and intercepted his letters from his mother, allegedly.

The complaint alleges that staffers denied Tolar the use of his leg brace, so his leg bowed; his foot became mangled, he dragged his foot and now needs reconstructive surgery on his leg.

Tolar’s mother took him from the boys’ school briefly so he could get treatment in Salt Lake City.

He was surprised to see her, the complaint says, because he believed she no longer loved him.

He wept and told her what he’d been going through, reportedly.

His mother called a DFS case worker, who was in doubt, saying Tolar had a history of “not telling the truth.”

The agency conducted an investigation, which the complaint claims was not comprehensive.

He still has seizures and can’t function in society, the lawsuit claims.

So Many Defendants

Cowboy State Daily placed voicemails requesting comment at the phone numbers listed for defendants Kevin McGenty, John Schwalbe, Elsa Olson, Mark Nelson and Tate Adams.

Amanda Turner said, “I’m busy right now” and asked not to be contacted further.

Thad Shaffer said, “No comment.”

Defendants Margaret Dahlke and Mike Nelson could not be reached for comment by publication time.

Dale Weber did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The young men are suing Weber in his official and individual capacities. They’re suing the other staffers in their individual capacities.

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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CM

Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter