Boy’s home staffer charged for not stopping choking of 16-year-old under his care
By Robert Stevens
MT. PLEASANT—A 20-year-old staff member at Oxbow Academy East has been charged with two counts of child abuse, a third-degree felony, for allowing a group of students to play a “choking game.”
Tuakimoana Leota, of Ephraim, also known as “Moe,” allegedly stood by and watched as the boys played “Cloud 9” at the academy on Nov. 22.
One 16-year-old boy was choked to the point of unconsciousness and was transported to Sanpete Valley Hospital.
According to a probable cause statement from Sanpete County Sherriff’s Department deputy Kallen Iven Cox, another boy “got choked to the point of unconsciousness, but regained consciousness and was allegedly fine in Moe’s words.”
Moe then watched as the victim was choked to the point he “was barely able to speak, shaking and had hemorrhaging in his eyes.”
Court records explained that Moe helped fabricate a story that the victim had fallen down the stairs, but Moe eventually told other staff members the truth. The boys involved in the incident testified it was not Moe’s idea to play the choking game.
Leota has been booked into jail, posted $20,000 bond and is scheduled to appear for an attorney status hearing on Jan. 8.
According to an email sent from the Oxbow Academy to the Gephard Daily, “The students involved in the incident are safe, being cared for, emotionally attended to and continuing on with their very sensitive and clinically complicated treatment. The families have all been involved and updated throughout this process and are supportive of Oxbow and our mission with their sons.
“It is important to note that the employee was immediately terminated due to negligence in following well established supervision protocols. Students were horse playing around; staff did not intervene according to training standards.”
The Oxbow Academy is a youth treatment center, specializing in sexual addictions and autism disorders.