In November 2011, Los Angeles Times reported of yet another abuse case in an already long list of abuse cases since 2001. Allegedly, former Marine Kelvin McFarland, or “Sgt.Mac”, as his cadets call him, stopped a truant on the street during school hours in May 2011. He question her then proceeded to handcuffed her, placed her in his car, rode to her to a relative’s home where he demanded money to enroll the 14-year-old into his program. McFarland was later charged of child abuse, kidnapping, false imprisonment, extortion, and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of a badge.
But did McFarland do a bad thing? There are those who see McFarland’s actions as commendable.
In fact, right after the arrest, close to three dozen kids accompanied by their parents held a rally in support of McFarland, who is a Monrovia resident and the founder of Family 1st boot camp, a teen boot camp in Pasadena.
According to former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian, the police have it all wrong. Supporters of McFarland claimed that the young girl had been seen in the company of older men when McFarland intervened. The teen counselor took her away to keep her from danger. When she became violent he handcuffed her so he could bring her home . Two defense witnesses, a grandmother and a mother of a friend of the girl, testified that the father, Roberto Muniz Orozco, gave money not as bail but as down payment because he wanted his daughter to be in McFarland’s teen counseling program. Nora McFarland testified that she had discussed the matter personally with Orozco who also stated that “it’s best to start as soon as possible.”
At the trial, the Pasadena courtroom was filled with teenagers who were associated with Family 1st, along with their parents to support McFarland. They were there to show appreciation to the man they say has saved many young lives, including theirs, from drugs and gangs. One girl in particular, a 16-year old Fabiola Serna who was also at the rally, said she that was heavily into drugs and was a regular truant until McFarland got her into the program.
Even Superior Court Judge Stan Blumenfeld acknowledged that it did not appear as if McFarland had any intent of harming the girl, however, “he decided to take it upon himself to set her straight … to act as if he had the authority like a law enforcement officer would do.”
Tough love boot camps have been drawn into the firing range of media scrutiny lately. Some may be more deserving to their fate than McFarland ever was. For instance, between 1994 and 2008, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in Florida investigated Alan Weierman and Victory Forge Military Academy regarding 35 child abuse allegations, including a 16-year-old runaway that was found in shackles by a Port St. Lucie police officer. Weierman later conceded that his school make use of physcial restraints as disciplinary measures. Like the McFarland case, the court concluded that no criminal violations had occurred although Victory Forge had indeed violated the Florida’s law on use of shackles and other physical restraints.
The knockout punch came in 2006, when the Florida Legislature voted to close all five of the state’s juvenile boot camps following Martin Lee Anderson’s death while performing an intense physical exercise while at Bay County Boot Camp in Panama City. The 14-year-old from Florida was committed into camp for stealing his grandmother’s car, violating curfew during probation, and theft of candy. His death became a cause célèbre, receiving national attention and of course marked the decline of boot camps in Florida, and perhaps even, all over the United States.