Photo: Peter Blasl

A second lawsuit has been filed in State Supreme Court alleging physical and sexual abuse at Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead.

John Joseph Barci, 50, was a resident at the Riverhead facility in the early 1980s, when he was placed there as a 12-year-old and, according to the complaint, was beaten and sexually abused by older boys residing in the same group home at the ranch. Barci says his multiple complaints — to two different sets of house parents and other employees — went unheeded and the abuse was allowed to continue.

Barci also accuses Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch cofounder Jerrell Hill of inappropriately touching him during a car ride they took alone in July 1982. Hill invited Barci to take a ride with him as a treat for his birthday, according to the complaint, and then asked the boy to sit close to him on the bench-style front seat, put his head on Hill’s shoulder and then on his lap, while Hill rubbed the boy’s back and upper thigh.

The 43-page complaint accuses the facility of negligence in failing to provide proper supervision of the boys in its custody, failing to ensure their safety, failing to investigate the child’s complaints and failing to report complaints of sexual abuse.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Suffolk County, pursuant to the Child Victims Act, a state law that took effect in August that revives sexual abuse actions previously time-barred under New York law. The Child Victims Act opened a one-year window, beginning Aug. 14, when any adult survivor of child sexual abuse can file a civil lawsuit against their abuser — including public and private institutions — no matter how long ago the abuse took place.

It was filed by the law firm of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz of New York City, the firm representing Alex Ramos, another former resident who brought suit against the ranch in September with similar allegations about physical and sexual abuse by residents and failure by ranch staff to supervise and protect children residing there. Ramos lived at the ranch for six month in 1995.

“We look forward to vigorously representing John as he seeks justice for the alleged sexual assaults he was subjected to, and continued to be subjected to, even after the ranch knew,” Wolf Haldenstein partner Regina Calcaterra said today.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch’s attorney John Denby, of the law firm of Devitt Spellman Barrett in Smithtown, said today he considers the case “very defensible.”

“The claims in the complaint are redundant and they make out a claim of negligent supervision based on unfounded allegations,” Denby said.

While both lawsuits stem from alleged incidents that happened long ago, other allegations recently led a Suffolk judge to stop placing youths at the facility.

Last month Acting Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho, who presides over Suffolk County Supreme Court Felony Youth Part, issued a ruling releasing youths he had placed at the ranch, “after being informed of a number of issues highlighting some very troubling allegations of misconduct and the general conditions at the group home,” a court spokesperson told RiverheadLOCAL Oct. 2.

“In addition, the Administrative Judge for the Judicial District covering Suffolk County has made a referral to law enforcement regarding the allegations,” Lucian Chalfen, director of public information for the N.Y. Unified Court System said.

He did not elaborate on the nature of the “very troubling allegations of misconduct” or the “general conditions” at the facility that led to Camacho’s ruling. He also did not say how many youth were affected by the order.

In addition, the Suffolk County Department of Social Services is “no longer placing anyone at the ranch,” a spokesperson for the agency told RiverheadLOCAL last week.

“We’re not going to be placing any children there in the future,” the DSS spokesperson said. She would not elaborate on why and could not provide data on how many children the agency had placed there in the past.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch is one of the county’s contract agencies for foster care services.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch was founded in 1976 by Jerrell and Fern Hill in memory of their late son, Timothy, who was struck by a car and killed while riding a bicycle in Riverhead. Jerrell Hill is a Christian minister and the mission of the ranch is stated as using “Christ-centered values” to restore “abused and neglected boys.”

Children are sent to the ranch by judges, the probation department and social services agencies.

Today, the organization provides residential services in group homes for boys and girls ages 10 to 17, according to its website. It also operates a transitional program for young men ages 18-24. It also operates retreat centers in Tennessee and Massachusetts.

Also named as defendants in the Barci suit are Timothy Hill Farm LLC, Apple Day Camp Inc., Timothy Hill Christian Camp Inc., Jerrell and Fern Hill, four house parents, members of the board of trustees of the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch.

This story is free to read thanks in part to the generous support of readers like you. Keep local news free. Become a member today.

SHARE
Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.