Bethel Children's Home Investigation - - Jackson, MS

Jackson 06/19/03

Bethel Children's Home Investigation

By: Maggie Wade

A family is taking the public behind the closed doors of the Bethel Children's Home in Lucedale, Mississippi. They've filed a lawsuit against the home and those who run it for the beating of a 17-year-old boy in 1998. They believe they're not the only ones to live through this kind of horror and abuse at the hands of those who run Bethel.

Jackson attorney John Holaday is representing the Paolillo family. They live in Connecticut, but for a year their son Joseph lived at the Bethel Children's home in Lucedale, Mississippi. The family says they had no idea of past problems at Bethel. John Holaday says the founder of Bethel, Herman Fountain, markets the facility nationwide.

"Through the internet, through brochures and other means he's learned how to market it as a Christian boys home where troubled youths can come and have a strict, Christian environment and hopefully get back on the right track."

The family has filed a lawsuit against Bethel and its operators charging that Joseph suffered tremendously at the hands of those who promised to help him. Holaday says they have conducted their own investigation.

"He was doing calisthenic exercises on the second floor balcony and received a compound fracture. Directly after that received a severe beating and was denied medical care until his flesh actually started changing colors."

Bethel was raided and closed by the state in 1988 when officials determined children were being mistreated at the facility. Most of them were from out of state like Joseph Paolillo. Herman Fountain the founder and one of the operators of Bethel and Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church was arrested and served a year in jail for assaulting an officer during the raid.

Several weeks ago the Attorney General's office was called back in to investigate Bethel and allegations of abuse. The Department of Human Services removed children from the facility and the AG's office says the investigation is ongoing. Holaday says its his client's hope to shut Bethel down for good.

"Our main goal in this is to make sure that Herman Fountain and the other folks who operate this facility are never allowed in Mississippi to deal with children again."

Joseph Paolillo is back in Connecticut with his family. But Holaday says the family is still trying to deal with the emotional and physical scars and hope this lawsuit will give them and other children some justice.

Attorney Holaday says other families who have complaints or concerns about Bethel can contact his office at 1-800-371-5183. He tells us Herman Fountain is representing himself in the case and he is still waiting to go to court.

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