A jury awarded Karen Norton $721,000 in damages Thursday for ill treatment she suffered at Straight Inc., a drug rehabilitation program in St. Petersburg.
As a result of an 18-month stay at Straight Inc. when she was 17, Norton said, she still has nightmares, is fearful of counselors and has trouble dealing with her anger. Norton said she was battered and kept at the facility against her will.
""In theory and on paper, this place looks great," said Karen Barnett, Norton's attorney. ""The problem is they don't follow their own policies or procedures."
In her lawsuit filed in 1985, Norton, alleged the former director, Virgil Miller Newton, grabbed her and threw her against a wall, screamed that she no longer had ""any rights" and told her she would not be allowed to leave the facility.
Norton, now 25 and living in Jacksonville, said she was denied health care and once collapsed and had to be rushed to a hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
In her most dramatic testimony during the nine-day trial, she told jurors how she was not allowed to visit her dying grandfather in Jacksonville. When he died, Norton said she was not told about it until after the funeral two weeks later.
Norton eventually fled the facility. Joy Margolis, a spokeswoman for Straight Inc., denied Norton's charges and said Straight has changed since Norton was put in the program by her parents eight years ago. Margolis said Straight would appeal the jury's decision.