Jan. 30--KEOKUK -- A facility housing troubled teenagers, already under investigation by federal, state and local officials for possible criminal sexual abuse, also faces a whistleblower lawsuit from a former employee who said she was fired after reporting the abuse to authorities.
In a lawsuit filed in South Lee County District Court, Cheyenne Jerred said Midwest Academy in Keokuk fired her Dec. 5 in retaliation for contacting the Iowa Department of Human Resources about an employee who was sexually assaulting a resident.
In the suit, Keokuk attorney Curtis Dial said the dismissal violated Iowa's whistleblower statute.
Dial said Friday it is his understanding Jerred's call to the DHS hotline initiated the criminal investigation.
In a related matter, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies executed search warrants Thursday at two locations Midwest Academy owns in Lee County -- at the main campus outside of Keokuk and the Midwest Treatment Center, near Montrose, according to Lt. Rick Rahn, special agent for the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation.
"The search warrants stem from an investigation of alleged sexual abuse involving a staff member of the Midwest Academy and a former student of the academy," Rahn said. "This is the only allegation the Iowa DCI has received at this time involving the Midwest Academy."
He said no charges have been filed or arrests made, though he added, "agents continue to work together to thoroughly investigate this very complex, large area."
Rahn said DHS officials have conducted 28 assessments at the academy in connection with the investigation.
Midwest Academy, which authorities said houses about 60 teens at its Lee County locations, remained open Friday. However, no one at the facility would comment on the investigation or the lawsuit.
"I'm sorry, I don't think anyone is available for comment," said a person who answered the telephone Friday, before hanging up.
According to the company's website, Midwest Academy is a therapeutic boarding school that helps teens follow rules, appreciate boundaries and develop strong life values. Families from across the country and around the world send youths to the school.
Dial said Jerred, 21, was fired after she notified public officials, law enforcement authorities and others, including academy officials, she believed an employee had sexually abused, assaulted and harassed a resident at the facility. The termination came a day after she called the DHS hotline to report the possible sexual abuse, he said in the suit.
"When being terminated from her employment, Jerred was informed by Midwest Academy they were aware she had made a report of suspected child abuse and that she should not have made the report nor encouraged the resident to report the sexual abuse," Dial wrote in his lawsuit, adding Jerred's actions and disclosures are protected by law.
The incident began when Jerred became aware on Nov. 28, 2015, "that a resident of Midwest Academy claimed she had been sexually assaulted and harassed by an employee," court records state. "Jerred informed the resident she should report the incident."
Jerred then called the DHS hotline to report the abuse, Dial said.
In addition to past, present and future wages, Dial is seeking punitive damages against Midwest Academy.
Dial said Iowa law is clear Midwest Academy officials "engaged in violations of rules of the state, mismanagement, an abuse of authority and substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety."
Rahn asked anyone with information about "Midwest Academy that may be beneficial to this investigation is asked to call 1-800-CALL-FBI (1800-225-5324).