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Iowa settles abuse claims from two women sent to Wisconsin juvenile home

Also, state decides not to appeal verdict in ISU student's suicide

The Iowa Juvenile Home is shown on Monday, January, 13, 2014 in Toledo, Iowa. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The Iowa Juvenile Home is shown on Monday, January, 13, 2014 in Toledo, Iowa. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

DES MOINES — A state panel agreed Monday to pay $350,000 each to two young women who asserted they were isolated and abused at a Wisconsin school where they had been placed by the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Paige Ray-Cluney and Laera Reed said in their lawsuits they were illegally secluded at the Copper Lake School for Girls in Irma, Wis., and that Iowa Human Services, which placed them there in 2015, “knew or should have known of these conditions.”

Ray-Cluney was a Linn County resident when she was sent to Copper Lake, while Reed was from Emmet County, court records show.

The women, now in their early 20s, each received a $1.95 million settlement in June from the state of Wisconsin, the Des Moines Register reported. Ray-Cluney and Reed alleged in federal lawsuits they often were kept in isolation 22 hours a day and endured physical abuse by Copper Lake staff, the Register reported.

The teens were sent to the Wisconsin facility because Iowa no longer has a place for delinquent girls after closing the Iowa Juvenile Home at Toledo in 2014.

“Essentially, if we had done our homework we wouldn’t have picked Copper Lake or we would have reason to think that maybe we shouldn’t pick Copper Lake,” State Auditor Rob Sand, one of three State Appeal Board members, said Monday of the allegations brought against Iowa officials. In settling, the state did not admit any wrongdoing in the case.

“I think it’s a reasonable result,” Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office told board members before the 2-0 vote to accept the settlement. “The outcomes were bad. These were significant problems with which the girls were treated. They’re both back in Iowa and are also moving on with their lives.”

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Ray-Cluney claimed in her Iowa lawsuit she attempted suicide while being held in isolation at Copper Lake only to receive additional isolation “sentences” for self-disfigurment and harm.

While being secluded, Ray-Cluney was not provided necessary feminine hygiene products and when the isolation cells were filled “only the first four girls to ask to go to school would receive education that day.”

Reed, who also claimed in her lawsuit she had attempted suicide at Copper Lake, said when girls got two hours daily outside of isolation cells, they were directed to shower, clean their rooms, get 15 minutes of exercise, have 10 to 15 minutes to write a letter and use the restroom. If she had extra time, “Ms. Reed was allowed only to sit in a chair facing a wall in the common area by herself, but was not allowed to speak.”

The question of where to put teen girls who demonstrate violent behavior also came up in 2017 with a Johnson County girl with a juvenile conviction for slicing the neck of a Four Oaks staff member.

State pays verdict from suicide case

In other settlements Monday, the State Appeal Board agreed to pay a $317,704 judgment to resolve a case in which a Linn County jury found the state caused the 2015 death of Iowa State University student Dane Schussler, who went to ISU’s counseling center for mental health issues and died by suicide.

Thompson called the outcome “a close call” but told members of the State Appeal Board before a 2-0 vote Monday “it was our determination that it was in the state’s best interest not to pursue an appeal.”

In its verdict in August, the jury found Schussler shared in the fault with the state over his Nov. 9, 2015, death, assessing each with half the responsibility.

Under the judgment approved Monday, Schussler’s parents will be awarded $315,000, reduced by half from the $630,000 award set by the jury, because their son shared in the fault. Another $1,892 was added for interest and $812 for court costs, according to board documents.

The Schusslers, from Marion, have said they wanted to bring awareness to the issues surrounding mental health, and show that the diseases are treatable and there should be accountability when services are not meeting the needs.

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Also Monday, board members Sand and David Roederer, director of the state Department of Management, approved a $125,000 tort claim with Nadine George, who brought a lawsuit against the state alleging negligence on the University of Iowa campus when she was struck by a trailer that came unhitched from a campus utility cart being used for landscaping work.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Trish Mehaffey of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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