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Panama City News Herald, Florida, 12 June 2010
Former student sheds light on Heritage Boys Academy
By S. Brady Calhoun
HILAND PARK -- As a student, Jeremy Crunk hated it at Heritage Boys Academy.
But looking back, the 22-year-old U.S. Army sergeant believes the year he spent at the school changed his life for the better.
"I was just a mad kid," Crunk said last week, a few days after law enforcement shut down the facility amid abuse allegations.
He was angry, Crunk said, because his father was away from home a lot because of work and other home life issues. He never got into any criminal trouble, but he often ran away from home. At 16, he still was considered a freshman in high school and was home schooled. If his mother had not placed him in Heritage, Crunk said he probably would have a criminal record.
"That place set me up for success," Crunk said.
The Bay County Sheriff's Office and Florida's Department of Children and Families removed 17 boys from the facility earlier this month, and investigators arrested 58-year-old Clayton C. "Buddy" Maynard, 20-year-old Russell Maynard and 40-year-old Robert Unger, charging each with one count of aggravated child abuse and five counts of child abuse. A fourth man, 22-year-old Marcus Kurbatoff, was arrested and charged with resisting an officer as authorities were arresting Maynard and Unger.
Investigators said the boys at Heritage have been beaten with sticks until they bled and that there was scarring and permanent marks on some of them. Authorities added that some students are believed to have been held down and choked. The school's website, which has been offline since sometime after the arrests, promised that students will be treated with military-like discipline and will learn military drill instructions and formations along with Christian teaching.
Local attorney Waylon Graham is representing Russell Maynard; Jim Appleman represents Clayton Maynard. Both attorneys pointed out that the academy takes in the worst juvenile offenders, youths who are on their way to criminal careers and lives behind bars.
The school is "a last-ditch effort to save them," Graham said. "Their motives were very pure. They wanted to try and help these kids."
Appleman said the criminal investigation was misled by one student, who school officials describe as very troubled.
He and other students "basically lied and turned their backs on the people who were trying to help them the most," Appleman added. "We're going to prove that in a trial."
Corporal punishment was supervised, documented and academy officials got blanket permission from each parent to use the punishment while their child was at the school, Graham said.
Records at the Sheriff's Office showed the agency had investigated issues at the facility in the past. DCF officials said they also had looked into the academy several times but found no evidence of wrongdoing until the arrests June 4.
Crunk's experience with Heritage began in 2004, when he awoke in his bed one morning to find himself surrounded by Heritage students and faculty. They had handcuffs and told him that he was coming with them. Crunk said he went quietly but added that if he had not been faced with overwhelming odds, he probably would have run.
Adults and other students watch the new students at the facility very closely to prevent escape attempts, Crunk said. He believes the reports of students being held down happened when children were attempting to run away.
"A lot of kids don't want to be there," Crunk said. "A lot of them would just fight."
Students were given corporal punishment, Crunk said. It happened only when they refused to do chores, were disrespectful or attempted to run away.
"Pretty much you had to be not trying," he added.
The adults explained that under Florida law they could give the students a total of five swats. The adults usually administered corporal punishment several hours after the incident, and they were always in control, Crunk said. The students were told to put on a pair of sweatpants and were then punished.
He described it as a "half-swing" that was "pretty firm." It was hard enough to cause bruising, Crunk said, but the only time he saw anyone bleed was when a student put his hand between the stick and his backside. Crunk said there was little to do at the academy and described it repeatedly as being "locked down."
He threw himself into his schoolwork, which was self-directed and Christian-based. As a 16-year-old freshman, he entered the academy a year behind, but by the time he left he was ahead. He graduated high school and entered college before his 18th birthday. He has two years of college and is still doing as much as he can while serving in the Army. Crunk said he hopes to one day work for the FBI as a hostage negotiator.
After a year in the facility, Crunk convinced his mother to come and get him. He was tired of being there and of not being able to talk to girls, he said.
"I was tired of being cooped up," he added.
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