An apartment complex in Montclair housed students at the military- style academy, which is accused of abuse.
Police in Montclair removed more than two dozen youths from a private military-style boarding school Tuesday, after a former employee and several former residents accused operators of administering abusive punishment.
In an early morning raid, 26 youths were taken from an apartment complex used as a residence by the Ministerial Christian Academy. Investigators with search warrants confiscated handcuffs, shackles, computers, financial records and other documents, police said.
Ricky Leslie, 39, of Montclair, described by police as a caretaker at the residence, was arrested on suspicion of rape with a foreign object and sexual battery of a female student. Police said Leslie is a registered sex offender.
Police were led to the two-story apartment complex on a quiet street by accusations that youngsters had been restrained in handcuffs, left for hours in cramped, darkened storage rooms and forced into a cold swimming pool as punishments.
The owners of the academy, Otis McIntyre, 47, and Doris McIntyre, 61, of
Montclair were questioned and released, pending further investigation, said Police
Lt. Chris Weiske. Police will seek criminal charges of felony child abuse, child endangerment and fraud, Weiske said. The McIntyres did not return calls seeking comment.
But Otis McIntyre's brother, Evangelist Charles, said the allegations were untrue. Charles said he had worked as an instructor at the school for three years, until last year, and had never witnessed any abusive practices.
He said students were never restrained and were free to move about their dorms. He also said students were given extensive counseling on arrival at the academy and at frequent intervals during their stays.
Charles said parents would have pulled their children from the program had there been evidence of mistreatment.
"These kids are in a controlled environment, where they are not allowed to have their way as they were able to do at home," he said. "There are a million reasons why these kids would do anything and say anything they could to get back home."
But many of the students - 13 boys and 13 girls, ages 10 to 18 - cried and hugged each other when officers said they would be sent home.
"I'm really glad the police came. I was getting ready to call them myself," said one smiling 16-year-old as she gathered her belongings and climbed into a van to be taken to the police station for interviews and breakfast.
Investigators were accompanied by probation officials and police chaplains, who helped escort the youths and provide counseling.
The incidents allegedly occurred both at the apartment building and at a facility in Pomona used as a church and school, where children were bused each morning for classes. Search warrants were also served at the school, which was empty when authorities arrived.
Weiske said the school had recruited students by contacting parents at juvenile halls and through advertisements and word of mouth. Parents were charged as much as $14,000 annually per child with the promise of schooling, military-style discipline and counseling services, he said.
"Certainly, all of these kids at some time were troubled and probably engaging in delinquent behavior, and the parents became desperate," the lieutenant said.
But authorities said the students had been subjected to verbal, emotional and physical abuse.
"Most of the parents we have talked to are shocked by the allegations," Weiske said. "Few visited the residence. The only time they usually saw their kids was at church on Sundays. They never saw the actual living conditions, nor did they search out the references the school relied on."
The alleged victim of sexual assault is an 18-year-old woman who recently left the academy after being there two years. Police said she had accused the operators of locking students in their rooms, hitting them on the buttocks with a large, heavy wooden paddle, dubbed the Board of Education, and forcing them to run around the 1 1/2-acre school property in 90-degree weather while carrying large rocks and logs. They were given no water to refresh themselves, she alleged.
The woman said she had been made to swim 20 laps in the apartment's cold pool at night as a punishment.
"I got sick and tired of what they were doing to me and the other kids there," she said in a phone interview.
By late Tuesday, about half of the students had been released to their parents. Weiske said several students were from outside Southern California and probably would be placed temporarily with San Bernardino County Child Protective Services. Homes of some of these students are in San Jose, Colorado and Washington state.
The lieutenant said a few of the children interviewed had wanted to stay at the academy rather than return to chaotic home lives.
Police also said the school, which claimed nonprofit status, had represented itself to parents as fully accredited.
But police said there was no evidence of such an endorsement by state or private accrediting groups.
Although private schools are not required to be accredited by the state, it is illegal to claim that a school is accredited if it is not, police said.
Because the academy apparently did not fall under government oversight, authorities said, they had trouble investigating it.
The academy is a member of the Assn. of Christian Schools International, said Kathy Ralston, associate director of that organization. But it is not accredited by the group and therefore not monitored by it, she said.