Choking game leads to child abuse charges at Sanpete County treatment center

File Photo: Gephardt Daily

SANPETE COUNTY, Utah, Nov. 26, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — A Sanpete County treatment center staffer has been charged with child abuse after he allegedly allowed his students to play a choking game that landed one of them in the hospital.

A probable cause statement from the 6th District Court in Manti said Tuakimoana “Moe” Leota, 20, is facing two charges of child abuse — intentionally causing serious physical injury, a second-degree felony.

The arresting officer wrote in the probable cause statement that he responded Friday to an “assault” that had taken place at Oxbow Academy East near Mount Pleasant. The Academy is described on its website as being “specifically designed to offer treatment for sexual addiction, sexual abuse, pornography abuse and other compulsive behavior issues.”

The victim, identified as a 16-year-old boy, had been choked to the point of unconsciousness, the statement said. “He was barely able to speak, shaking, and had hemorrhaging in his eyes,” the statement said. The teen had been taken to Sanpete Valley Hospital.

The arresting officer asked the 16-year-old boy who had choked him and he identified a 17-year-old student at the academy. The officer also asked the boy if there were any staff members present during the event and he said Moe. Moe was later identified as Leota.

The 17-year-old was then interviewed and admitted “to playing Cloud 9, also known as the choking game,” the statement said. “The 17-year-old said that Moe was present during the choking, but it was not his (Moe’s) idea.”

After being read his Miranda rights, Leota was interviewed and admitted he was present during the event. “Moe stated that he had allowed the group of juveniles to choke one another,” the statement said. “According to his statement, Moe watched as one juvenile got choked to the point of unconsciousness. That juvenile regained consciousness and was allegedly fine in Moe’s words.”

Leota said he then watched the 17-year-old choke the 16-year-old until he lost consciousness. After about one minute after passing out the 16-year-old regained consciousness, the statement said.

“The juveniles and Moe fabricated a story that the 16-year-old had fallen down the stairs,” the probable cause statement said.

“The 16-year-old was then transported to Sanpete Valley Hospital and the 17-year-old and Moe eventually told other staff the truth.”

Leota was arrested and transported to the Sanpete County Jail, with his bail set at $20,000.

It’s not clear whether the 17-year-old will be facing charges.

In response to Gephardt Daily’s request for comment, Oxbow Academy sent the following reply:

Thank you for reaching out. First and foremost, Oxbow Academy would like to let you know that 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. 

Oxbow Academy is fully cooperating with law enforcement and State of Utah Division of Licencing. Due to HIPAA regulations, Oxbow cannot discuss specifics of patient care.


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