A prison interview, court documents and public records told the story of a girl failed by the system
By Wilson Criscione / InvestigateWest
Related: “The Cruelest Lie: You’re Safe Now”
In August, I sent a letter to Alyssa Bowers, who was incarcerated at South Idaho Correctional Institution, notifying her that InvestigateWest was working on an investigation of Cornerstone Cottage, a youth residential treatment facility in Post Falls, Idaho. At the time, I knew about the case in which a former employee, Brad Ott, had been accused of raping her, but I knew little else about Alyssa’s story and I wanted to give her an opportunity to share her experience.
Alyssa did not respond to that message. The article about the facility and the state’s response to the allegations of abuse that occurred there — including against Alyssa and many other girls — was published in October. InvestigateWest did not name Alyssa at the time.
Weeks after the story was published, as I continued to follow up on the initial investigation, I sent Alyssa another letter wondering if she’d reconsidered. This time, she wrote back. Her letter explained that she didn’t respond to the first message because it brought up issues she’d suppressed a long time ago, but that she’s now decided she wanted to talk to me in the hopes that doing so could make a difference.
The Idaho Department of Corrections prohibits face-to-face media interviews with incarcerated individuals, but the agency’s director agreed to waive that prohibition following an appeal by InvestigateWest and an assessment by prison staff that she was in a mental state to handle an interview about traumatic events.
I visited Alyssa on Dec. 4, and talked to her for nearly three hours in which she recounted the abuse she suffered in her childhood, her time in foster care, the nine months she spent at Cornerstone Cottage and her subsequent battle with drug addiction that landed her in prison. We kept in contact through email and telephone afterward for fact-checking purposes.
InvestigateWest verified her story and the conditions at Cornerstone Cottage using court documents, public records and interviews with nearly a dozen former Cornerstone employees, some of whom worked there while Alyssa was a resident.
The public records InvestigateWest obtained include police call logs and police reports from the Post Falls Police Department, complaints made to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare regarding Cornerstone starting in 2016 and state investigatory records that dealt with the youth facility.
The circumstances surrounding Brad Ott’s alleged rape of Alyssa in 2017 were described in multiple incident reports written by Cornerstone Cottage employees, a complaint to the Idaho Department of Welfare, notes from agency investigators following up on the complaint, and the agency’s statement of deficiencies report, which described Cornerstone’s failure to properly train or background check employees. In addition to those records, InvestigateWest obtained court documents showing the rape charge against Ott, both his and Alyssa’s statements to police, Ott’s guilty plea, minutes of court hearings and the order for a withheld judgment. These records backed up interviews with both Alyssa and Ott regarding their recollection of what transpired.
We also obtained audio of the May 11, 2018, hearing in which Kootenai County Judge Lansing Haynes ordered the withheld judgment against Ott.
InvestigateWest verified the major events of Alyssa’s childhood — including the sexual abuse she suffered from her father — through court records. That included the court transcript of Alyssa’s testimony against him in April of 2016.
Alyssa’s struggle with addiction and arrest history was detailed in court documents and described by Alyssa herself.
InvestigateWest confirmed that Idaho has sent other girls with severe sexual trauma to Cornerstone since 2017 by obtaining and analyzing internal company messages, scouring public records and reviewing news reports.
While InvestigateWest often grants anonymity to victims of sexual abuse, Alyssa insisted that she wanted to use her full name in the hopes that it would boost the credibility of the story.
FEATURED IMAGE: Cornerstone Cottage opened in 2016 in Post Falls, Idaho, a booming bedroom community 25 miles east of Spokane. While from the outside, the building could be mistaken for a suburban home, Post Falls police received 321 calls from Cornerstone Cottage from 2017 to 2022. (Erick Doxey/InvestigateWest)
InvestigateWest (invw.org) is an independent news nonprofit dedicated to investigative journalism in the Pacific Northwest. Reach reporter Wilson Criscione at firstname.lastname@example.org. This report was supported in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.