Ron Ackert's letter of June 19, 1998 to Dr.
Linda Blessing, Director, Arizona Department of Economic Security,
regarding the killing of teenager Nicholaus Contraraz at Arizona
June 19, 1998
Dr. Linda Blessing, Director
Arizona Department of Economic Security
1717 West Jefferson Street
Phoenix, AZ 85007
RE: Nicholaus Contreraz (01/15/82--03/02/98)
Nicholaus Contreraz looked forward to his
California court-ordered stay at Arizona Boys Ranch in Oracle. A
Ranch representative who visited him in late December 1997, or early
January 1998, in Sacramento Juvenile Hall had told him that this
would be his golden opportunity to turn his life around. Nicholaus
was excited because he would be able to earn his high school diploma
while at the Ranch.
You see, Nicholaus Contreraz had a dream of
becoming a firefighter. He wanted to help people, just like those
who tried so hard in 1994 to help his dad when he was laying upon
the ground in front of the family home in Sacramento, the victim of
mistaken identity in a fatal drive by shooting.
After witnessing the death of his dad in 1994,
Nicholaus was a little boy lost amidst tidal waves of grief and
despair. A bright student, Nicholaus lost interest in his studies,
so overwhelmed was he by the loss of his dad. His otherwise good
common sense was eventually overruled by attempts to get attention
for his psychological needs and a soul troubled by the death of his
Shoplifting, running away from group homes that
he was placed in, and joyriding in a stolen car prompted the
Sacramento County judge to tell Nicholaus and his family that
Arizona Boys Ranch was his last chance before California Youth
Authority commitment. All pennyante stuff when compared to the track
records of most CYA inmates.
Upon arrival at the Ranch in Oracle January 8,
1998, Nicholaus never had a chance. An asthmatic, staff physician
Dr. Virginia Rutz apparently prescribed Nicholaus inhalers one month
after his arrival. However, he was forbidden to use them unless he
had permission from Arizona Boys Ranch staff to so do. So much for
prescribing medication to a kid with a chronic ailment that impacted
his breathing--medication for a kid who was transported from living
in a near-sea level environment to the elevation at Oracle.
The continued requests for medical attention
that were made by Nicholaus because of ongoing breathing problems,
perhaps initially exacerbated by the change in altitude and other
environmental factors, were dismissed by Nurse Babb and all Ranch
staff members whom Nicholaus trusted and believed he could rely upon
for intervention when needed.
After all, the Ranch claims, even today, that
"aggressive" medical intervention is provided for kids entrusted to
their care and supervision.
Despite his repeated requests for medical
attention, Dr. Rutz examined Nicholaus only upon his arrival January
8 and again one month later on February 8. This suggests that the
Ranch provided their wards with access to Dr. Rutz only once per
month, preferring that Nurse Babb apply her keen health care skills
instead. When she examined Nicholaus on February 8, Dr. Rutz entered
in his medical records that she could detect no signs of illness. It
appears that about this time, however, Nicholaus was complaining to
Ranch staff and Nurse Babb about his continuing breathing
difficulties, plus persistent diarrhea and vomiting. His diarrhea
was treated by Ranch staff by refusing him access to toilet
facilities except for in the morning after breakfast and again
during the evening hours following the conclusion of whatever
"physical training" he was required to perform, or was "assisted" by
Ranch staff in completing.
Although Nicholaus continued to complain of
breathing difficulties, Nurse Babb and Ranch staff continued to deny
Nicholaus access to competent health care, dismissing his complaints
as merely attempts to get out of his program responsibilities. Nurse
Babb or Ranch staff gave Nicholaus a paper sack to breathe in;
claiming that he was merely hyperventilating. Ranch staff further
responded by turning up the heat, ordering him to perform more
physical training exercises. Nicholaus was also forced to drop his
pants so other Ranch wards could inspect him to see if his
uncontrollable bowels had again soiled his clothing. Nicholaus was
also given a small trash container to carry with him everywhere he
went. It contained clothes that had been soiled when his bowels let
loose and, eventually, his vomitus.
As his vomiting became more frequent, the
aggressive medical attention provided Nicholaus by Ranch staff was
an order to vomit in the small trash container containing his
excrement soiled clothing; increased physical training exercises;
and further humiliation by Ranch staff, including having to do
pushups so his head went inside of the container holding his
excrement soiled clothing and vomitus.
On February 27, 1998, Nicholaus Contreraz was
allowed to telephone his family. His grandmother, Connie Woodward,
told E.J. Montini of the Arizona Republic that "There were ranch
people on the line with Nick, on a speaker phone," Woodward says.
"They said he hadn't eaten in a week. I said, 'My God, how much
weight has he lost?' 'They said he was a strong, healthy boy, and
not to worry. They said they wanted him to do 10 push-ups and when
he wouldn't do it, they took his arms and legs and forced him. Stuff
"I asked Nickie, 'What's the matter, babe?' and
he couldn't put sentences together. I guess he didn't have the
breath. He said, 'Wanna die. Wanna be with dad. Too hard.' "
She also says Contreraz told her, "Chest hurts
bad." (Arizona Republic, 4/19/98)
Nicholaus's mother, Julie Vega said that
throughout this last conversation the family had with him, Nicholaus
was also coughing uncontrollably.
The family of Nicholaus Contreraz trusted that
Ranch staff would see to his medical needs whenever necessary. They
had been told that Arizona Boys Ranch would be a good environment
for him. The court wouldn't send their son, nephew and grandson to a
place that wasn't safe, would it? Surely the Sacramento County
Probation Department would not agree to the referral if there had
been past incidents at a place so far away.
Despite their involvement in this conversation
with Nicholaus and his family, Ranch staff continued to deny
Nicholaus access to competent health care, even after he complained
to his grandmother that his "Chest hurts bad."
Or that he had signaled his will to live had
been broken: "Wanna die. Wanna be with dad."
Thus began the slow, three-day shutting down of
his body. The statement made by Nicholaus on February 27 of wanting
to die was not one of suicide, rather it was his recognition that he
was dying at the hands of his caregivers and hoped that the torture
he had been enduring would come to an end. Besides, Nicholaus had no
need to commit suicide; he had come to the realization that his
caregivers were killing him, "Why are they doing this to me?" He
just wanted it to be over with.
On March 1, and again on March 2, 1998, Nurse
Babb continued to deny Nicholaus access to competent health care.
She claims she could not detect signs of illness despite his
obviously compromised respiratory efforts, vomiting, persistent
diarrhea, and weight loss that would total approximately 20 pounds
at the time of his death during the early evening hours of March 2,
There was ample time to prevent his death by
seeking competent medical intervention for Nicholaus following his
complaints the morning of March 2, of being unable to breathe and
experiencing pain in his chest and all over. However, Ranch staff
and Nurse Babb continued their denial to him of competent health
care. Instead, he was subjected to further humiliation in front of
Ranch staff claims that on March 2, 1998, they
had to physically restrain and punish Nicholaus due to "aggressive"
behavior. He may very well have been aggressive. With the ability of
his lungs to oxygenate his blood now so severely compromised, his
brain and body were starved for oxygen--but there would be one last,
futile attempt to survive.
Throughout his last day, the will to live tried
one last time to exert its dominance through the desperate attempts
made by Nicholaus to be referred for competent medical evaluation
and intervention. But once again, the desperate pleas made by
Nicholaus for medical help were met with impossible demands made of
him by Ranch staff to perform more physically demanding training
exercises. After all, his efforts at acting sick were so good;
Nicholaus was told on this, the last day of his life, that he
"deserved an Academy Award."
At approximately 1:00 PM on March 2, Sacramento
County Probation Officer Don Berg talked with Nicholaus on the
telephone. Most certainly Nicholaus advised Mr. Berg of his
breathing difficulties. Most certainly Nicholaus begged for help.
Most certainly Mr. Berg could hear those difficulties as Nicholaus
gasped out his words and gulped for the oxygen his body and brain
were now so starved for. Had Mr. Berg chosen to do so, he could have
accessed the local EMS system in Pinal County from his location in
California. If Ranch staff claimed to Mr. Berg that Nicholaus was
merely acting in an attempt to avoid his program responsibilities,
as they most surely must have done, it was incumbent upon Mr. Berg
to look out for the best interests of his client, Nicholaus
Following Nicholaus's conversation with Mr.
Berg, Ranch staff, instead of summoning competent medical
assistance, required him to perform even more physical training
exercises. Ranch staff was rewarded when Nicholaus vomited and again
defecated upon himself. Statements made by some Ranch wards indicate
that he was not allowed to clean himself or change clothing. It can
only be presumed for what reason. However, a scenario suggesting
that he was being punished for telling his Sacramento County
probation officer that he was ill is quite likely. One needs only to
look at how his medical needs were met by Ranch staff following the
conversation with his family three days earlier to draw such a
Less than two months after turning sixteen, at
approximately 5:30 P.M., Nicholaus Contreraz collapsed from the
effects of his physical and mental torture for the last time. When
ordered to get up, he responded "No," the last word to ever come
from the mouth of a confused and troubled teen; a sixteen-year-old
boy harboring dreams of helping other people when he grew up. Dreams
that he and his family believed Arizona Boys Ranch was going to help
Nicholaus to realize.
We know from witness statements, that following
his final collapse on March 2, two Ranch staff members picked
Nicholaus up, one on either side supporting him under his arms, and
carried him in such a way that his toes dragged along the ground.
How long Ranch staff dragged Nicholaus like this before attempting
to force water in his mouth is unknown. What does seem apparent, is
that when Ranch staff finally dragged him to where they attempted to
force water in his mouth, Nicholaus had already gone into
Finally agreeing to get Nicholaus medical
attention when they couldn't get a response from him, Ranch staff
accessed the local EMS system; medical attention Nicholaus should
have had in mid-February--medical attention that may well have saved
his life had it been summoned at almost any time during his last day
alive; medical attention he certainly would have received if Mr.
Berg had honored his professional and fiduciary obligations to
Nicholaus Contreraz following the conclusion of the 1:00 PM
telephone conversation of March 2, 1998.
The autopsy performed by the Pima County
Medical Examiner's Office described the lung and chest cavity
infections as having "had been present for at least weeks prior to
his death," and that Nicholaus was otherwise "a well developed and
well nourished" boy. The medical examiner also noted 71 cuts,
abrasions and contusions on Nicholaus's head, face and body.
Arizona Boys Ranch took the finding that
Nicholaus was "well developed and well nourished" as a way of
attempting to minimize the circumstances that existed in their house
of horrors at Oracle: "We hope that when the family receives the
facts, they will be relieved and realize Boys Ranch staff did their
best to revive Nicholaus."
The only realization the family of Nicholaus
Contreraz can have is that he is dead; that Nicholaus died while in
the care and custody of Arizona Boys Ranch; that Nicholaus died as a
result of the mental and physical abuse he received from Ranch
staff; that Nicholaus died because he was deliberately denied access
to competent medical treatment by Ranch staff and Nurse Rabb; that
the physical appearance of Nicholaus in death was so horrific,
pictures had to be placed in his casket in order for people to know
what he really looked like; that had Nicholaus Contreraz been
treated like a human being while at Arizona Boys Ranch, efforts to
revive Nicholaus at sunset on March 2, 1998, would not have been
necessary; and that he most certainly would be alive today, still
dreaming of becoming a firefighter in order that he could help other
people, were he not in the care and custody of Arizona Boys Ranch
during the seven week period leading up to March 2, 1998.
That is the only realization possible for the
family of Nicholaus Contreraz, despite the best efforts put forth by
Arizona Boys Ranch to put a positive spin on the death of a
sixteen-year-old boy who should be alive today; who would be alive
today if not for the house of horrors in Oracle, Arizona Boys Ranch.
As for the Ranch press statement saying that it
is hoped that the family of Nicholaus Contreraz "will be relieved,"
I doubt seriously there can ever be relief that their son, grandson,
and nephew is dead, unless solace can be found in the fact that
Nicholaus is no longer suffering at the hands of his 'caregivers' at
Arizona Boys Ranch.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security is
reviewing the application of Arizona Boys Ranch to continue its
operations. Department staff and regulators should encounter no
difficulty in understanding that Nicholaus Contreraz was tortured
and that his death was no accident.
Additionally, the consequences of the acts and
failures to act by Ranch staff, Nurse Babb; and Arizona Boys Ranch
cannot be discounted by the failure of Mr. Berg to summon outside
medical assistance for Nicholaus following the conclusion of his
telephone conversation with Nicholaus on March 2, for Nicholaus died
a torturous and needless death at the hands of his 'caregivers' at
Arizona Boys Ranch.
The deliberate withholding of medical
treatment; the 2.2 liters of pus drained from his chest at autopsy;
the 71 cuts, abrasions and contusions that covered his body from
head to foot; the blood found in his stomach; the statements made to
Pinal County Sheriff's Office investigators by Ranch staff; the
statements made by wards of the Ranch; all combine to paint a rather
clear picture: The death of Nicholaus Contreraz was murder resulting
from the deliberate denial of medical treatment by Ranch staff,
Nurse Babb, and the willful neglect of Arizona Boys Ranch.
Therefore, the application for license renewal
submitted by Arizona Boys Ranch should, indeed it must, be denied
with prejudice, regardless of threats of additional litigation by
Arizona Boys Ranch, or threats of political retribution, or
By denying the Ranch's renewal application
based upon the circumstances regarding the death of Nicholaus
Contreraz and cumulative evidence of past and current wrongdoing;
perhaps in death, the dreams sixteen-year-old Nicholaus Contreraz
had of helping other people can be fulfilled.
Rest in Peace, Nickie.