Taking a beating 

Parents want answers from Spring Creek

A Florida couple wants to know who beat up their son at a private residential boarding school in Sanders County…and they’re willing to pay $5,000 to find out.

Scott and Deanne Hopp sent their 16-year-old son Jordan off to Spring Creek Lodge Academy near Thompson Falls last September in hopes the school could reverse his defiant behavior in a safe wilderness setting.

“We sent Jordan there out of concern for his safety,” says father Scott Hopp. “Jordan wasn’t making good decisions and Spring Creek was touted as the right place for him.”

For nearly seven months Jordan hewed to the straight and narrow, working through Spring Creek’s program and advancing to the program’s penultimate Level Four. He’d earned “junior staff” status, a leadership role that gave him limited oversight of lower-level Spring Creek students, and was on his way to graduating from the program. He seemed to be doing so well at Spring Creek that his parents sent their 15-year-old son Seth there to join his older brother in January.

But things started to go wrong last month when Jordan was dropped from Level Four to Level One after Spring Creek staffers caught him with a cigarette lighter and uncovered the teenager’s “run plans.”

A few weeks later, faced with the prospect of starting the program over at Level One, Jordan says he tried to flee. He managed to escape Spring Creek’s 100-acre campus 13 miles northwest of Thompson Falls and successfully eluded searchers for 36 hours in the woods without shoes or a coat before hunger and cold got the best of him and he found the road and flagged down a car that returned him to Spring Creek.

After the escape attempt, Jordan’s parents made arrangements to bring their son home to Anna Maria Island, Fla.

The night before his scheduled return home, Jordan walked into the bathroom of his cabin at Spring Creek, where he says he was attacked by five of his “family members”—the designation given to student groupings at Spring Creek.

Jordan, now back in Florida, says he went into the restroom around 8 p.m. to use the toilet. When he was finished and opened the curtain to leave the toilet stall, five of his family members were standing there waiting for him.

“Everyone around me had their fists clenched except for [one of the boys], who held the shower pole,” says Jordan.

The boy holding the plastic PVC shower pole shut the door to the bathroom and then one of the boys punched Jordan in the face, he says.

“The rest [of the boys] charged me into the stall,” says Jordan. “Before I turned in the corner of the stall to protect my face, I was hit in the face with the shower pole.”

Jordan says the boys then continued punching and kicking and hitting him for about two minutes before a Spring Creek staffer barged in and broke up the fight.

Jordan was taken to the staff offices, authorities were called and Jordan was taken to the Clark Fork Valley Hospital emergency room for treatment.

Scott Hopp says when Spring Creek shift supervisor Cliff Payne contacted him shortly after midnight on June 6, he was told that his son had been “severely beaten.”

“When they first called me, they said he was bleeding, possibly had a broken nose, his faced was bruised up and he has scratches and bruises on his back,” Hopp says.

The initial dispatch narrative from the Sanders County Sheriff’s office’s case report for the incident indicates “a shower rod…was used as a weapon.” The Clark Fork Valley hospital emergency room physician’s comments also note that a weapon was involved, stating that Jordan was “hit with shower rod (PVC) repeatedly in the face and upper back…”

This isn’t the first report of a shower rod being used as a weapon at Spring Creek. According to a September 2003 story in The New York Times, a teenage girl was beaten with a shower-curtain rod in June of that year by fellow Spring Creek students.

But Sanders County Sheriff Deputy Joseph Brown stated in his investigative report that he was “not able to confirm the use of the curtain rod due to the fact that the shower-curtain rods were moved and placed in the showers for hygiene time.”

According to Brown’s report, “all possible evidence in the crime scene had been destroyed.”

However, Brown determined he had enough information to cite two of the alleged attackers for simple assault.

Hopp, who immediately pulled both his sons from Spring Creek in the early-morning hours of June 6, says he’s frustrated by the lack of responsibility the school has so far taken for the attack on his son, and the lack of investigative interest exhibited by the Sanders County Sheriff’s Department. Scott says Deputy Brown told him he wouldn’t be able to follow up with the investigation for at least five days because Brown’s wife was expecting a baby.

“I couldn’t believe it. My son was just brutally beaten in the school with a shower-curtain rod and nobody was around to take care of an investigation,” Hopp says.

Hopp says Spring Creek officials ignored his repeated requests for information about the circumstances surrounding the attack (Spring Creek officials did not respond to requests for an interview for this story), and says he’s gotten similar results from law enforcement officials. According to Hopp, Sanders County Attorney Robert Zimmerman said his office would look into the incident, but at press time Hopp says it’s been more than a week and he still hasn’t heard from Zimmerman.

Zimmerman told the Independent that because the incident involves juvenile offenders, the case has been referred to Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Barbara Monaco in Polson.

“She reviews the report and makes an initial determination if the matter should be dealt with formally (filing a petition) or informally by her office,” Zimmerman stated in an e-mail to the Independent. “If she believes it should be handled formally she requests the county attorney to file a petition alleging delinquency in District Court. Many times she will refer the matter to the jurisdiction from which the juvenile came for the authorities there to handle.”

As of press time Zimmerman had not received Monaco’s recommendation.

In the meantime, the Hopps hope the incentive of a $5,000 cash reward will help bring some clarity to their son’s case.

“Every hour that passes by we’re getting further away from the truth,” says Hopp.

jadams@missoulanews.com

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