Three lawsuits filed in Hall County allege Eagle Ranch was negligent in preventing and handling claims children sexually abused other children.
Eagle Ranch is a nonprofit organization assisting families in crisis through outpatient counseling as well as group homes on 315 acres in Flowery Branch. According to the organization's website, Eagle Ranch "provides a Christ-centered home, education and counseling for nearly 70 boys and girls."
The first lawsuit, filed in June by two people formerly employed by Eagle Ranch, alleged their youngest child was sexually abused by the child of other staff parents.
The final two lawsuits, filed in July anonymously by parents of children enrolled at Eagle Ranch, claimed their children were molested by other children living in their group homes.
The lawsuit filed by two former houseparents begins:
“Eagle Ranch is supposed to be a place to help and protect children. It is not. Throughout its history, Eagle Ranch has engaged in repeated cover-ups of abuse of children entrusted to its care, both by adults and other children. Both the abuse and cover-ups need to stop.”
The Times reached out to Eagle Ranch through its director of communications, Stefanie Long, to discuss these lawsuits. Long sent a statement:
“Eagle Ranch is aware of the lawsuits filed by these parties. We strongly deny the claims made in each lawsuit and believe the claims are meritless. The Ranch intends to fully defend itself against these claims. The first lawsuit is a matter between former employees and involved no clients served by Eagle Ranch. The other two lawsuits are matters between former students in our residential program, who are minors, and involved no Eagle Ranch staff. For privacy reasons in each matter, as well as pending litigation, the Ranch cannot provide further comment.”
Long also said Eagle Ranch has provided resources to more than 2,000 children and families for nearly 40 years.
“We strive to create a nurturing, structured home life in a peaceful and safe environment for all of the families we serve,” according to the statement.
The lawsuit filed by the staff parents said the couple joined Eagle Ranch as staff parents in April 2020 and ended their employment in January 2022.
Staff parents “were expected to replicate a family environment for the children admitted to the Eagle Ranch program,” according to the lawsuit. The staff parents were housed with their children, though the children would attend school where they were normally enrolled.
According to Eagle Ranch’s legal filings, house parents “should strive to model what a healthy family looks like so that both the client kids and their families served view them as partners in their healing journey.”
In October 2021, the staff parents’ 5-year-old son said a 9-year-old boy touched his genitals and bottom, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that Eagle Ranch failed to report the incident to authorities and made attempts to “make the incident ‘go away.’”
One specific instance was a script intended for the Eagle Ranch community that the lawsuit claimed “grossly mischaracterized the incident” by describing the staff parents’ child “as a willing participant in a sexual game.”
The lawsuit also claimed the staff parents were told in December 2021 they could either resign and receive a severance package or stay at Eagle Ranch and be “disproportionately supervised” because the supervisors did not trust them.
In its legal response, Eagle Ranch denied being “responsible for negligence and a cover-up” and that there was no retaliation in the staff parents’ severance from working at the nonprofit.
Another lawsuit alleged a boy under the pseudonym John Doe was molested in February 2021 by his roommate while he was asleep. The lawsuit claimed the boy “has suffered and will continue to suffer from a variety of emotional and psychological problems including but not limited to embarrassment, shame, anger, mental anguish and depression.”
The third lawsuit detailed a Jane Doe being molested by a housemate in July 2021.
The lawsuit involving John Doe claimed Eagle Ranch failed to report the incident to the proper authorities, which Eagle Ranch denied in its legal response. The day after the alleged incident, Eagle Ranch stated in its legal responses that it reported the allegation to the Division of Family and Children Services as well as the residential child care licensing unit of the Georgia Department of Human Services.
“Eagle Ranch further states that both John Doe and Doe’s roommate were sent home with their parents pending the state agencies’ investigations, including a separate investigation conducted by (the) Hall County Sheriff’s Office, and that it was not until the investigations of Doe’s roommate were complete and cleared that Doe’s roommate was permitted to return to Eagle Ranch,” according to Eagle Ranch’s legal response.
Included in Eagle Ranch’s legal filings were copies of liability releases signed that “release and forever discharge Eagle Ranch, Inc, its officer, directors and employees from any and all liability, claims or demands arising from said child’s participation in any and all of the activities and programs of Eagle Ranch.”
The case involving the staff parents is assigned to Superior Court Judge Clint Bearden, while the other two cases are in State Court
Anulewicz said they are waiting for the judge to rule on a motion to get discovery materials. The main material they are seeking is other documentation and information relating to “the abuse of other children at the ranch.”