Opening a youth treatment center is relatively simple in Utah. But state regulators often can't — or won't — shut a place down after abuse is alleged.
AVON, Colorado — Patricia Herrera had been out of Integrity House for three months when she alleged something that she had never disclosed before.
She was 16 and facing charges in juvenile court for resisting arrest, after she had run away from the teen treatment facility in February 2013 and had wrestled with a Cedar City police officer who tried to put handcuffs on her.
She had been raped, Herrera alleged, by the facility’s then-executive director.
Her allegations sparked a police investigation that led to Daniel Taylor being arrested and facing charges that he sexually assaulted Herrera and two other girls. But prosecutors eventually dropped the charges and cleared them from Taylor’s record.
While he was still facing those serious allegations, state regulators apparently never considered shutting down Integrity House.
Greg Hirst, the state licensor who oversaw the program, told the Associated Press in June 2013 that he went to the program after Taylor’s arrest and found few violations.
“I made the determination that the staff and clients in the programs appear safe,” he said at the time. “We are dealing with a volatile situation. These programs deal with people’s children and money.”
The facility stayed open under the same ownership for six months, until someone new bought the business and renamed it Havenwood Academy. By that time, Taylor was no longer facing charges.
How state regulators reacted after Taylor’s arrest is one example of how easy it can be in Utah to get into the teen treatment business — and how difficult it can be for the state to close a program.
Integrity House was tucked into a suburban-looking, Cedar City neighborhood — a boxy home with tan siding that looks like every other house on the street. In 2001, it had been a rental property where college students lived.
Taylor happened to visit someone at the house, he recalled, and noticed that the property was already set up so that each bedroom had its own bathroom. He had wanted to get into the teen treatment industry — he had worked for a few such facilities in his 20s — and thought the house could be a good fit.
It didn’t take him long to secure the home and get approval from the state to start taking in girls from all across the country.
“Probably about five months,” he said.
It’s fairly easy to open a teen treatment center in Utah. State regulators require a certain number of staff be hired, including a consulting licensed psychologist or physician. A facility owner must have treatment plans in place and a proper building that aligns with fire safety and other codes.
But state rules make no mention of any needed qualifications for the person applying to open a youth treatment facility beyond the ability to pass a background check.
Integrity House had been operating for 12 years before Herrera arrived at age 16. Her mother had been desperate and took out a loan to pay for her to go there after Herrera had attempted suicide.
When Herrera alleged she had been assaulted, the police raided Integrity House and interviewed the girls who were staying there.
Herrera’s roommate, who asked Sent Away to identify her by the pseudonym Sara, told investigators that Taylor had sexually assaulted her, too. And another girl alleged that Taylor assaulted her when he was transporting her to Integrity House, according to an arrest warrant.
But nearly a year after Taylor was charged with six felonies, the case started to fall apart when Sara admitted that she made up her allegation.
“I told my therapist. I told my family,” she said in a recent interview. “I said some of the things I said were not true, or a little fabricated, just to help the other girls — kind of solidify their situation a little more. … But I was 12. I was very immature, not thinking about how my actions could affect other people. It was a very big mistake, and I think about it all the time and how much I regret that. Because that could have really ruined somebody’s life.”
There was another serious blow to the state’s case: Months after they arrested Taylor, authorities learned that he is legally blind. It raised doubts about whether Taylor could have assaulted the girl while taking her to Integrity House.
“Daniel Taylor not only could not have picked up a girl in Sacramento, a patient, and driven her to Cedar City and sexually assaulted her on the way — Daniel Taylor couldn’t have gotten out of a parking lot,” said Scott Burns, an attorney who represented Taylor in a recent civil lawsuit. “He can’t see four inches in front of his face.”
Around that same time, Herrera had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt and her therapist had told officials it wouldn’t be in her best interest to testify.
Prosecutors dropped the case against Taylor 10 months after his arrest. He denied assaulting the girls in a recent interview, and said they were making up stories to get out of Integrity House.
Herrera said recently that her feelings about her time at Integrity House are complicated. But looking back, she’s disappointed her case didn’t go forward.
She found out Taylor was no longer facing charges after she searched Google and read a news article.
“I don’t know if it said multiple girls or one girl was untruthful and then the other ones are mentally unfit,” she said. “And my automatic assumption was that I was one of the mentally unfit people, and that’s why nothing came of it.”
The Sent Away project generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Herrera agreed to the use of her name.
Utah regulators respond
Integrity House’s license was never in jeopardy, public records show, even after the serious allegations.
The Office of Licensing’s director at that time, Ken Stettler, noted in an email to Hirst that he was getting pressure to take more action, but urged him to take his time on the investigation.
“We already have political figures and critics questioning me as to why we don’t just close them down immediately,” he wrote. “... It’s critical we make the right call when the time comes.”
Public records show Utah’s Office of Licensing did insist that Taylor have no further involvement in the business. His older brother, Faron Taylor, owned the business and agreed to that, emails show.
Shortly after Daniel Taylor’s arrest, Faron Taylor told state regulators he was trying to sell Integrity House to a group of employees. But the emails show that negotiations dragged on for six months, before the efforts blew up when Faron tried to re-hire Daniel’s wife. Several staff members quit in response, the emails show.
Hirst visited the program during that time. He noted in records released to Sent Away that staff were concerned that a “general disrespect for staff and clients would once again become the norm” and that the program was in “emotional upheaval.” But he didn’t find the program was violating any state rules.
Hirst declined to speak with reporters for this project.
Eventually, the attorney who represented Daniel Taylor in his criminal case — and in Integrity House’s interactions with state licensors during its early years — took over the business and renamed it Havenwood Academy. It’s still in operation today.
Records show Faron and Daniel Taylor, along with another man, have been trying to open an adult treatment center since 2018, and even had a state license in hand last year. But they never took in any clients, and Faron asked the state to close the license after “parting ways” with the property owner last October.
During those 10 months in 2013 when Taylor was accused, Utah regulators allowed Integrity House to remain open. That’s not unusual.
In the past five years, Utah’s Office of Licensing has never shut down a program after allegations of mistreatment. The closest it came was in 2019, when Red Rock Canyon School relinquished its certification after a riot and media scrutiny highlighting increasing violence at the facility.
Since then, Utah regulators have documented instances where staff at facilities improperly held down children or forced them to walk for hours on end as punishment. There’s been documentation of two girls in just over two years who died in Utah youth treatment centers — one by suicide, and another after regulators say the girl did not receive necessary medical care.
If Utah officials shut down a facility for abuse or misconduct, state rules prohibit the licensee from re-applying for a license for five years. The licensing rules also note that regulators can consider a licensee’s past violations when deciding whether to award a new license.
Amanda Slater was the top regulator in Utah for three years before she moved to a new job within the Department of Health and Human Services recently. Under her direction, the Office of Licensing has never tried to shut down a teen treatment facility, though she feels it has the authority to, she said in a recent interview.
“When a child dies or is injured, it is a tragedy,” she said. “But we have rules and statutes that we’re supposed to follow. And we need to look at it objectively and make a decision based off of that. But I do believe we have the tools to do that, if it is necessary.”
Slater noted that she took more disciplinary action against youth treatment facilities last year, which came after state legislators passed the first reform in 15 years to Utah’s oversight of the more than 100 teen treatment programs in Utah.
Slater said the new law helped — it spelled out for the first time what was prohibited and required more frequent inspections from her staff. That means they’re finding problems earlier, she said.
“I have realized,” she said, “that we need to hold these programs accountable.”
KUER reporter David Fuchs contributed to this article.