ABILENE, Texas — Three drill sergeants at a West Texas boot camp for children are being investigated for their use of force, including reportedly using a stun gun on a 4-year-old who disobeyed his parent, a police chief said Friday.
No one involved with Reality Invasion Boot Camp has been arrested, but the Taylor County District Attorney's Office is reviewing the case, Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge said.
All parents must sign waivers allowing the staff to tackle their children and use handcuffs and stun guns, but police have "grave concerns" about some of the force used by boot camp workers, Standridge said.
While his department's Tasers use 50,000 volts of electricity, the camp's stun guns use 1.2 million volts. It is sold commercially as a device for personal protection and as being effective against an attacker.
"Therein is our concern and the impetus for this criminal investigation," Standridge said in a news release issued Friday after he spoke with the media.
Paul Huntington, the boot camp's founder and chief executive, has denied abuse allegations. Handcuffs and stun guns are used only under extreme circumstances, he has said. The nonprofit camp has been operating about four years and holds a 30-week course at a city park in which parents can attend.
The investigation started earlier this month after a child told Child Protective Services that she had been shocked numerous times by an electronic device — the same day that Abilene police made an emergency welfare check after a report that a 14-year old had been repeatedly shocked with a stun gun.
Standridge said five victims have been identified, including a 12-year-old boy who was reportedly stunned after crawling too slowly during an exercise. Drill sergeants reportedly used a stun gun on a 4-year old because he didn't obey his parent, Standridge said.
He said a 14-year-old girl was forced to the ground and shocked in her home after she didn't clean her room fast enough, got upset and "balled up her fists" — but that her mother gave verbal permission for drill sergeants to use the stun gun. The mother later told investigators that her children were stunned with the device because they were "acting up and not behaving," Standridge said. The teen's two siblings had been shocked during one of several home visits, he said.
Huntington has said that drill sergeants used a stun gun on a 14-year-old girl after she assaulted them during a home visit.
Many parents say they support the camp's discipline methods, and some teens say the camp changed their lives.
"I got my discipline under control. I have a bright future set for me," former participant Ferman Cisneros told KTXS-TV.