POWELL — The owner of a Powell area group home for troubled teenage boys is facing a criminal charge of child endangering, after one of the teens in his care reportedly suffered severe frostbite last fall.
Prosecutors allege that Heart Mountain New Beginnings director Jon Carter made the teen shovel snow for hours in cold October weather and then waited hours before seeking medical attention for the teen’s frozen fingers.
Carter pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge during a Jan. 26 hearing in Park County Circuit Court.
Heart Mountain New Beginnings “denies all the allegations regarding this incident,” said attorney Colin Simpson, who’s representing Carter in the case.
Simpson said in an email that the business is working with the Wyoming Department of Family Services “to ensure that the full truth is known and [Heart Mountain New Beginnings’] good name and reputation is preserved.”
The Department of Family Services licenses the facility as a substitute care provider. When asked about the October incident and its impact on Heart Mountain New Beginnings’ license, the department said any investigations it conducts are kept confidential until completed.
“Whenever the Department Licensing Unit receives a complaint about possible violations of licensing rules it takes action and investigates,” DFS Support Services Senior Administrator Roxanne O’Connor said Friday.
Park County Sheriff’s Investigator Jed Ehlers laid out the gist of the public criminal case in an affidavit of probable cause, which prosecutors filed in support of the child endangering charge.
According to Ehlers’ recounting of various interviews, the teen and another boy in the Heart Mountain New Beginnings program were told to go out and shovel snow on the morning of Oct. 22. They spent about 45 minutes shoveling amid windy conditions and temperatures that were around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the affidavit.
However, Carter reportedly had the teen do more shoveling that afternoon “as punishment for not shoveling well enough earlier,” Ehlers wrote.
The teen then spent another 2 hours and 40 minutes shoveling with holey gloves — from roughly 12:35-3:15 p.m., the affidavit says.
Two other teens reportedly served as mentors and monitored the boy’s shoveling; Ehlers quoted one of Heart Mountain New Beginnings’ staff members as later saying that “he can’t be responsible for boys that are outside while he is inside cooking and watching the boys [there].”
When the teen finished shoveling that afternoon, he complained about his freezing fingers, which had been cold during the morning shoveling as well. In a message relayed through one of the teen’s peers, Carter initially told the teen to write in his journal about the problem, the affidavit alleges.
However, at about 4:15 p.m., Carter looked at the boy’s fingers and determined he’d suffered severe frostbite — the worst the director had ever seen, according to Ehlers’ report.
However, the investigator’s affidavit says nearly three hours passed before Carter took the teen to the Powell Valley Hospital Emergency Room for treatment, around 7 p.m.
The Department of Family Services learned of the incident, the affidavit indicates, and contacted the sheriff’s office around 9:30 p.m. Responding Deputy Chris Ivanoff reported that two fingers on teen’s right hand were swollen and purple from the frostbite.
At last month’s arraignment hearing, Deputy Park County Attorney Saige Smith agreed to allow Carter — who appeared via a summons, rather than an arrest — to remain free on his own recognizance while the case is pending. Smith did request that Carter have no unnecessary contact with any potential witnesses in the case, including the victim.
Defense attorney Simpson said it would be “no problem” for Carter to have no contact with the teen.
However, the lawyer said other boys at Heart Mountain New Beginnings “witnessed some of this,” so it would not be practical for Carter to have no contact with them.
“He [Carter] needs to interact with these boys,” Simpson said, adding, “These boys are in his custody and care.”
Simpson suggested — and Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters agreed — that Carter simply be prohibited from talking about the facts of the case with any witnesses.
A pretrial conference is set for March 23, with a trial tentatively scheduled for April 8.
To convict Carter of the charge, the Park County Attorney’s Office will have to show that Carter “knowingly, or with criminal negligence, caused, permitted or contributed to the endangering of the teen’s life or health, by violating a duty of care, protection or support.”
Carter started Heart Mountain New Beginnings with his wife in 2006. The group home describes itself as a youth ranch “where at-risk 13-17 year old boys learn to be men of integrity and positive members of society.”
Heart Mountain New Beginnings says it operates under Christian principles and offers a “family ranch style of living” — never caring for more than 10 boys at a time so as to provide “constant” supervision.