A Sonoma County jury has awarded $1.1 million to the plaintiff in a whistleblower case against the Hanna Boys Center, finding the former clinical director was wrongly terminated for speaking up about bullying, drug use and other unaddressed concerns at the home for troubled boys.
Tim Norman, who worked as the center’s head of clinical care for 31 years before his November 2016 dismissal, said the verdict came as a huge relief after many years of stress and a three-week civil trial.
But Norman, 73, said he also was struck by the contrast between the speed with which the jury understood his plight and what he called the failure of the institution’s own trustees to respond to concerns with direct implications for client health and safety.
“That’s the thing that is very unclear in my mind,” Norman said. “They didn’t seem to be paying attention to their fiduciary responsibility. Because, they’re really in charge.”
Norman’s case against the venerable institution, which is associated with the Santa Rosa diocese of the Catholic Church, was filed in January 2017 at the start of a difficult year for Hanna that included revelations of sexual misconduct involving two staff members, several related civil suits, and finally a move by the state to revoke its operating license.
The California Community Care Licensing Division ultimately stayed revocation of the license, instead imposing conditions on the facility and a three-year period of probation.
But the totality of the circumstances has taken a toll on Hanna’s reputation.
Particularly high profile has been the case involving Kevin Thorpe, Norman’s replacement as clinical care director and a 14-year employee of the Hanna Boys Center.
Thorpe, now 40, was arrested last June in connection with child sex abuse allegations dating to 2007 and may have molested as many as seven young people, according to the license revocation documents. He remains jailed and faces trial on multiple felony counts involving four victims, all teenagers when the alleged abuse began.
But Norman, 73, said it is inaccurate to view Hanna’s troubles as starting with Thorpe.
Some of the same problems Norman tried to bring to light three and four years ago have been reflected in deficiencies cited by the California Community Care Licensing Division. The agency has slapped Hanna with 19 citations since mid-2015 related to everything from insufficient bed linens to improperly stored leftovers and cleaning supplies, to staffing shortages, inadequate night-time supervision and a “culture of disrespect” that resulted in bullying and physical aggression, according to public licensing records.
“This is so incredible for me to describe,” Norman said. “We’ve never had a citation previous to this particular time.”
CEO Brian Farragher, who took the helm of the boys center in mid 2014, conceded the past few years have been rocky ones.
But Farragher said a wholesale shift in operational philosophy is to blame. The facility and its staff transitioned to a trauma-based treatment protocol that eschews punitive discipline — deemed damaging to young people largely raised in traumatizing circumstances.
The new approach is centered on building relationships and working through trauma and behaviors that result. But it’s harder than pronouncing punishment, Farragher said, requiring staffers “to develop new skills, to puzzle through problems, to restore connection,” and “sometimes people move on.”
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