County Will Not Prosecute Home for Boys

Times Staff Writer

Saying that investigators failed to uncover any evidence of child abuse, the San Diego County district attorney's office announced Friday that it would not pursue criminal charges against the Rainbow Ranch boarding school on Lake Wohlford Road.

"A thorough review of the files fails to show that there was any abuse of the 13 boys who lived at the facility," Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Bell said. "There was no physical evidence of abuse, and none of the boys interviewed by the Child Protective Services office claimed to have been abused."

A Sheriff's Department investigation into the 5-month-old Christian ranch school was sparked by two boys who ran away from the ranch and complained of being harshly disciplined by the staff.

On March 14 sheriff's deputies removed 11 youths from the home and took them to the county's Hillcrest Receiving Home for children. They have since been returned to parents or guardians.

The ranch's owner, Ray Swan, said discipline included putting boys in a 6-foot-square, windowless, plywood enclosure. Boys who were interviewed by authorities said that while they were in "the hole" they were allowed to go to the bathroom and eat, and that air circulated freely in the room.

The ranch closed this week because it did not have a license from the state Department of Social Services to operate as a group home.

Swan has acknowledged that although the kind of discipline he metes out for troubled boys is not popular, he sees nothing wrong with forcing an adolescent to write "I will not curse" 500 times and, if he refuses, ordering him to dig a hole and fill it back up.

When the boys at Swan's school beat on the walls of the "get-right" room, they are put in handcuffs, he said. When they cry or curse, they may be gagged with a piece of tape.

Swan, who had been running the school with his wife, Sherry, since Nov. 1, declined to comment this week on the investigation. Earlier, Swan told the Times that the popular way to handle such deviant behavior would be to let the youths "do their own thing . . . But we believe that doing your own thing often does violate other's rights. And other people should be your prime consideration."

Rainbow Ranch became the target of a sheriff's investigation after Donald Jacobson, 13, of San Jose, and Mike Boland, 16, of Kansas City, Mo., fled the school March 7.

Jacobson claimed he had been placed in "the hole" about twice a week since his parents sent him to the boarding school in January. During one three-day stay in the room, Jacobson alleged, he was let out on the second day and forced to do push-ups until his knuckles bled.

"This is a Christian boarding school," Swan has said. "Our mission is to take kids who have problems at home. We give them a home, discipline, love and an education."

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