Layne Richard Meacham, the founder of a controversial West Valley youth treatment program whose license as a social worker has been suspended since Jan. 13, can continue to practice but can't have direct contact with his teenaged clients.
The status of Meacham's license now rests on a March hearing to be conducted by the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing and the attorney general's office. The licensing division has been conducting an ongoing investigation of Meacham based on complaints of physical and verbal abuse of clients enrolled in the treatment program.Meacham also has been charged with two complaints of child abuse filed in 3rd Circuit Court in West Valley City, according to Keith Stoney, chief prosecuting attorney for West Valley City.
But Proctor Advocate attorney Robert Hansen was to file motions Wednesday to dismiss the criminal complaints against Meacham.
Hansen said the charges were made by two youths who have an admitted history of lying. "As a matter of law, the reasonable doubt has to be there - they are both admitted liars," said Hansen, who sits on board of directors for Proctor Advocate.
Stoney agrees that the testimony of troubled youths might not be the most believable witnesses in court. "Kids who are involved in a program like this may have some credibility problems. That's why you have to look at other things, such as injuries to hands and testimony of other witnesses."
The criminal complaints allege that last Aug. 15 Meacham disciplined a 16-year-old girl by forcing her to stand with locked knees for 11/2 hours, denying her water and her medication, as well as a trip to the bathroom when she complained of illness. She was later taken to the hospital, after she suffered from an internal hemorrhage and vomited blood. She also complained of being verbally abused by her peers, who were encouraged to do so by Meacham, the complaint says.
The second case charges that last Aug. 1 Meacham forced another 16-year-girl to sweep a large warehouse floor with her hands until she had blisters, then Meacham directed her to wash her hands with a strong chemical that caused additional pain. Meacham later coerced her to tape a statement that the blisters came from playing baseball, according to the complaint.
Hansen describes Proctor Advocates as a treatment program for delinquent youths, which is a combination of tough love discipline and Alcoholic Anonymous for kids. Meacham vigorously denies use of physical discipline with any of the 24 youths enrolled in Proctor Advocate, for whom treatment costs $7,900.
"Their real confrontation is a verbal one, and apparently it gets pretty loud," Hansen said. "You don't cure cancer with aspirin.
With Meacham's suspension, Brian Miller, the only other employee of Proctor Advocate, has directed the program.
Among the most controversial aspects of the program is that Meacham requires parents to sign over custody of their teenagers to him. Hansen said parents legally can do that under the state's probate laws.
If his clients run away, Meacham will psychically apprehend them and return them to the center. "There is an element of force," Hansen said. "You grab a guy by the arm, and you grab them bodily. Layne is willing to take that risk because he thinks under probate authority he's not doing anything a parent couldn't do."
Hansen admits critics paint Proctor Advocate as a kind of a cult group, with Meacham a charismatic leader with a Pied Piper mentality. But Hansen said he holds 20 affidavits from parents who support the program.