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Boot camp counselor in court for kidnapping

June 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A local man who runs a boot camp for at-risk young people is accused of kidnapping a teenager and demanding money for her release. Kelvin McFarland, 41, made a court appearance Monday. Demonstrators showed up to support the suspect.

McFarland is a Marine Corps veteran. Supporters say his harsh style and discipline has changed lives and kept kids out of gangs, but police believe he has taken illegal payments from parents and is guilty of other crimes.

McFarland is accused of kidnapping a Pasadena teenager and then trying to extort money from her family.

McFarland runs a boot camp for at-risk youth called Family 1st Growth Camp. McFarland, known as "Sarge" to many of the kids, was arrested on May 27 after he allegedly handcuffed a 14-year-old girl who was truant, took her to a relative's home and then tried to persuade her family to enroll her in his boot camp.

Parents and kids from the camp demonstrated in support of McFarland outside the courthouse.

"I just think from an investigative standpoint, when you're going to go and arrest somebody you need to look at both sides of the case and I think the evidence that will show today will exonerate him," said Elpidio Estolas, from Family 1st.

Carolyn Travis, 12, was taken to the boot camp after running away from her mother's home.

"He said that if I don't call him 'sir,' like 'yes sir' or 'no sir,' that he was going to smash my head into the wall," said Travis.

Travis's father disapproves of McFarland's tactics.

"I don't agree that he should be a man that runs around our city doing this to our children and intimidating the parents into this as though he is the law," said Carolyn's father, Ray Travis.

The 14-year-old victim testified during Monday's preliminary hearing. She is expected back on the stand Tuesday.

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