Pasadena police probe possible boot camp abuses


PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Police will investigate whether a crime occurred at a youth boot camp after videos surfaced showing instructors shouting at a boy wearing a tire around his neck and children being told to drink water until some vomited.

Investigators will question boot camp operator Kelvin "Sgt. Mac" McFarland, police Cmdr. Darryl Qualls told the Pasadena Star-News ( ) on Thursday.

"Looking at the video we can only see McFarland, so we will start the investigation with McFarland," Qualls said.

McFarland earlier denied to the newspaper that he appeared in the videos. A call left for him was not immediately returned Friday.

The Star-News this week released short video clips it said were made in 2009.

On one, several instructors in military-style fatigues surround and shout at a boy who is wearing a heavy auto tire. At one point, the boy falls down crying but is ordered to stand again.

In the other, several girls and boys are repeatedly ordered to drink water from colored plastic bottles. Several youngsters vomit.

"I would certainly not subject my son or daughter or any child I know to this type of activity," City Council member Victor Gordo told the newspaper.

"The short clips that I reviewed appeared to be more of a situation of intimidation and humiliation appearing to be employed under the guise of physical activity and discipline," Gordo said.

McFarland runs Family First Growth Camp in Pasadena, which uses tough-love and military-style disciplinary tactics. He was charged earlier this year with child abuse, extortion and other crimes.

Prosecutors contend that he handcuffed a truant 14-year-old girl in May and told her family that she would be sent to juvenile detention unless she was enrolled in his camp. She was never enrolled.

The newspaper said the videos appear to have been made in Pasadena but did not indicate how it obtained them. It did not specify whether the videos were taken at a Family First training session and noted that some children seemed to be wearing T-shirts from another camp.

"Family 1st Growth Camp doesn't believe in corporal punishment, nor will it be tolerated," according to a camp website.

"The young men/women who come to us are good kids who have begun to make some poor choices with friends, school, drugs, alcohol, attitude with peers and family members," the website said. "Through Family 1st, these kids seek out, find, then learn to love themselves so they can love their families and start to move in a positive direction."

A bill introduced earlier this month by Rep. George Miller, D-Richmond, would require training for boot camp staff. It also would require boot camp instructors to report child abuse and create a federal database where parents can check the credentials of boot camp operators.

"This legislation will help put an end to these horrific abuses that put the lives of too many children in jeopardy," Miller said in a statement.

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