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Ranch’s standard of care criticized

Morning Star attorney challenges testimony

For decades, Morning Star Boys’ Ranch was run entirely by its director, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, without oversight by the board of directors, whose members were concerned more about property acquisition and fundraising than the boys they served, an expert in residential group homes testified on Tuesday.

“If the board of directors had been doing its job, Father Joe’s employment would have been terminated,” Douglas Poppen, former director of the Clackamas County (Ore.) Juvenile Department, said in during trial for the first of 19 lawsuits brought against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch.

Poppen, who also administered the Parrot Creek Ranch near Oregon City for 16 years, was hired as an expert in standards of care for group homes by attorneys for Kenneth Putnam, who accuses Weitensteiner and another Morning Star employee of sexually abusing him while he was a resident in 1988 and ’89.

Poppen also said he was “shocked and appalled” by the standard of care at Morning Star, particularly its methods of corporal discipline, which included striking boys with bare hands and “hacking” them with various paddles and boards.

Under cross-examination by Morning Star’s attorney, Jim King, Poppen acknowledged that he saw no evidence that Morning Star was ever found to be out of compliance by state licensing inspectors or had been cited by the Department of Social and Health Services because of alleged sexual abuse.

The standards of care to which he referred, Poppen said, are not found in any written code or statute, but are his own professional opinions based on comparisons with other similarly licensed programs across the Northwest.

In other testimony Tuesday, a Spokane psychologist who treated Putnam said her client’s symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder were likely aggravated by the alleged abuse he endured at the ranch.

But under King’s cross-examination, Mary Dietzen acknowledged that Putnam’s psychological problems could also have been the result of parental abuse and neglect before being sent to Morning Star as well as his use of marijuana and prescribed painkillers.

Dietzen also said she could not produce two psychological assessments of Putnam, known as the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III, the results of which were invalidated by a company that evaluates the tests.

Earlier Tuesday, Robert Hunter supported the testimony of his close friend, Michael Clarke, who said a day earlier that Weitensteiner paid him $2,000 to keep quiet about alleged abuse at Morning Star.

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