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Lawsuit against Turn-About Ranch in Escalante alleges repeated sexual abuse

Posted at 2:28 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 21:43:26-05

ESCALANTE, Utah — Sexual abuse allegations by a teen against Turn-About Ranch in Escalante were announced today in a lawsuit filed by women's rights attorney Gloria Allred and Utah attorney April Hollingsworth.

Hannah Archuleta was 17-years-old when she was brought to the ranch in October 2019 after appearing on the "Dr. Phil" show. She claims she was sexually assaulted by a male staff member ten days after she arrived, but did not report the incident because of fear of retaliation, according to the lawsuit.

“At the ranch, I was alone and isolated from all of my family," said Archuleta.

One month later, Archuleta alleges a second sexual assault by the same staff member, and reported the incident to a female staff member. She claims she was called a liar, but told to write a detailed letter in her report.

According to the lawsuit, Archuleta faced immediate retaliation and punishment for writing the letter, including being forced to face a wall or shovel manure for hours, left outside in freezing temperatures, and forced to sleep on a wooden plank, among other vindictive actions.

“I expected to be treated with understanding, instead I experienced retaliation from the ranch after I spoke up in what appeared to me to be punishment for reporting my abuse,” Archuleta said.

Archuleta adds that she was also verbally abused as being weak, manipulative, pathetic, and stupid.

On its website, Turn-About Ranch says it takes "traditional treatment models used to help troubled youth develop into effective individuals and combine them with something more unique - a real, working cattle ranch."

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Tony Archuleta, Hannah's father, said he's upset that law enforcement officials failed to take the reports seriously.

"I personally feel they swept this under the rug without even bothering to interview Hannah as a victim." said Tony Archuleta.

Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins took issue with Archuleta's comments about law enforcement's role in the incidents, especially since his department was not named in the lawsuit.

"To accuse my office of sweeping a sexual assault, or any other crime under the rug, frankly sickens me," Perkins told FOX 13. "These people are obviously dishonest."

Paris Hilton recently called for the closure of another Utah facility for troubled teens after describing the abuses there, and testified at the Utah Legislature last month on Senate Bill 127, Human Services Program Amendments, that seek to improve the oversight of such facilities.

Ms. Allred expressed her support of Utah SB 127 and her hope that the lawsuit will "inspire other teenagers to assert their rights if they believe that their rights have been violated in similar programs for 'troubled teens' in Utah and in other states across the nation."

“There appears to be a major problem in Utah at some residential facilities which have developed programs which have been marketed as programs that help troubled teens,” Allred said.

In response to the lawsuit, Turn-About Ranch offered the following statement:

"We at Turn-About Ranch strongly deny the allegations put forward in Ms. Allred’s press conference. Though Ms. Allred’s office has spent months soliciting a cash settlement, we were unaware that a suit would be filed. Upon learning of this young woman’s accusation, we took immediate action. Unfortunately, her father removed her from our facility before we could conduct a full inquiry. Both she and her father were unwilling to communicate with us from that time. We interviewed other students and staff members and were unable to corroborate her story. We fully cooperated with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, but without further contact with the accusing party, our options were limited. The next communication we received was a demand for cash payment in order to avoid litigation some months ago. We would never take lightly an allegation of mistreatment to any of our students. Now that this incident is the subject of litigation, we must withhold our full response for a later date. But it is important to note that these allegations were fully investigated and that the account given by opposing legal counsel to the media was incomplete, to say the least.”