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SALT LAKE CITY — A judge ruled Tuesday that there is sufficient evidence for a former West Ridge Academy employee to stand trial on a charge of child abuse.
Tyler Haunga Feinga, 22, of West Jordan, is accused of breaking the wrist of a boy who charging documents say was being "disruptive" at the residential treatment facility for troubled teens.
Third District Judge Paul Parker ordered Feinga to stand trial at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing held over videoconference Tuesday. He considered medical records filed with the court in the last week as evidence in this ruling.
Feinga pleaded not guilty to child abuse, a class A misdemeanor.
The boy was interrupting class, and being loud and defiant Jan. 4, charging documents say. Feinga removed the 15-year-old boy from the room using a "gooseneck hold" or "escort hold," which is one of the approved holds for use when there is a disruption.
After the boy resisted, Feinga used the "bent wrist procedure" — which he told police is used by staff when the residents of the facility are harming others or could cause damage to the facility — when he heard the wrist pop. Prosecutors say the boy was taken to a doctor two days later where it was determined his wrist was fractured.
Feinga was fired, according to West Ridge Academy executive director Bob Stubbs.
The Utah Legislature this year passed a bill aimed at reducing abuse and increasing accountability at residential treatment centers. The bill, SB127, requires reports to be made when physical restraints are used.
Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who sponsored the bill, explained that under the new law, which was not in effect at the time of Feinga's action, pain restraints like this are only allowed when there is imminent danger to the child or others. After any use, a report must be made to the state within 24 hours justifying the use of the restraint.
"Because we prohibit pain restraints and require reporting … I think they're being used less frequently," McKell said.
He said pain restraints have been used since the bill went into effect, and the state has investigated each one and found that they were justified. He said some facilities expressed concern about not being able to use the restraints but that this shows him that the bill is working.
"There is a role for it, but it needs to be extremely limited," McKell said.
The bill also gave funding to have more investigators who reach out and make sure the youths are OK after a restraint is used.
McKell said it is "extremely concerning" that in the instance addressed in this lawsuit the boy was not taken to get medical care quickly, but was in pain for multiple days before the injury was addressed. He said if a report within 24 hours was required and an investigator was involved, the boy may have gotten treated sooner.
Feinga returns to court for a pretrial conference on Nov. 29. Feinga's attorney asked for time to find witnesses who will be able to speak at the hearing.