Photo: Peter Blasl

A third man has filed a lawsuit against Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch alleging he was the victim of physical violence and sexual abuse as a child in the care of the Riverhead facility.

John J. Gubitosi’s complaint, filed yesterday in State Supreme Court in Suffolk under the New York Child Victims Act, enacted in 2019, which revives actions previously time-barred under New York law.

Gubitosi, now 40, was a resident at the ranch from October through December, 1994, when he was 15 years old, according to the complaint. On his first night at the facility, he was attacked and beaten by several other residents who put a blanket over his face and beat him with heavy objects, according to the complaint. He reported the attack to the house parent, a ranch employee, who told him “in sum and substance,” according to the complaint, “Oh that was a blanket party. Man up. Go back to bed. I’ll handle it.”

Instead, Gubitosi says, the beatings by other boys continued to occur repeatedly in the group home, without intervention by staff, despite his complaints.

The facility’s “de facto policy of virtually no supervision after ‘lights out’ made it so plaintiff was repeatedly beaten by the other teenage boys” that “escalated to sexual abuse at the hands of the other residents.”

After “lights out,” the house parents employed by the ranch would retire to their personal living area within the house, leaving unsupervised the 11 boys who lived in the house, including several who had been labeled “PINS,” Gubitosi says in the complaint. He was one of the smallest boys in the house and subjected to abuse during the nighttime “blanket parties” several times a week, Gubitosi alleges. During one of the nighttime “blanket parties,” two other boys attempted to rape him. On another occasion, again during one of the nighttime “blanket parties,” one of the residents did rape Gubitosi, while another watched, the complaint says.

Gubitosi reported these “blanket parties” and attacks to a social worker at the ranch multiple times, the complaint says, but Ranch employees failed to prevent the child’s abuse or report it, as required by State Social Services Law, the complaint states.

Motivated by “sheer self-preservation,” according to the complaint, Gubitosi ran away from the ranch to his grandmother’s house in December 1994, the complaint states. Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch “engaged in a cover-up” through its representations to the Suffolk County Family Court, which focused solely on the boy’s attempts to flee and omitted his multiple reports of abuse, according to the complaint.

In papers filed in Family Court in January 1995, Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch “focused solely” on the boy’s attempts to flee the ranch and did not disclose his multiple reports of abuse.

Gubitosi’s suit is the third filed against Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch by the NYC law firm of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz.

“The allegations of each complaint sets forth an environment of limited to no supervision which allowed the older residents to sexually, physically and emotionally abuse” the three plaintiffs while they were in the care and custody of the Riverhead facility, according to a statement by the law firm.

According to the complaints, the ranch and its employees covered up the attacks rather than address them, allowing the children to be subject to continued victimization.

The three plaintiffs resided at Timothy Hill at different times. John Barci lived there in 1981-1982, John Gubitosi from October to December 1994 and Alex Ramos between January and June 1995.

Their allegations have many similarities, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said. All three plaintiffs were among the smallest residents. All three allege that the ranch’s serious lack of supervision allowed for lawlessness and violence to occur among the residents, with smaller residents being targeted by those bigger and older than them. All three were sexually assaulted after ”lights out” in the houses where they stayed, when there was virtually no supervision of residents.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch’s attorney John Denby, of the law firm of Devitt Spellman Barrett in Smithtown, said he could not comment on the new lawsuit because he had not yet seen the complaint.

Last week, he said he considered the Barci lawsuit “very defensible” because the claims were “redundant and they make out a claim of negligent supervision based on unfounded allegations.”

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch was incorporated in 1976 and established in Riverhead in 1980 by Fern and Jerrell Hill as a haven for neglected, abused and troubled boys. Its main campus consists of more than 100 acres off Middle Road in Riverhead. The organization also owns several “transitional” homes around the Riverhead community for young men ages 12-24 who were convicted of felony offenses in Suffolk County Supreme Court Felony Youth Part. It also maintains a home for teenage girls, as well as retreat centers in Massachusetts and Tennessee.

In addition to Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch Inc., the new lawsuit names as defendants Timothy Hill Farm LLC, Apple Day Camp, Timothy Hill Christian Camp, Jerrell Hill, Fern Hill, a former social worker, former house parents and members of the board of trustees of the not-for-profit corporation.

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.

The Suffolk County Department of Social Services is “no longer placing anyone at the ranch,” a spokesperson for the agency told RiverheadLOCAL earlier this month.

“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.

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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.