Juvenile's arrest in rape spurs Md. to probe facility

May 11, 1991|By Michael James

A juvenile offenders program that came under fire this week when one of its residents was arrested for allegedly raping a jogger in Howard County is now facing a state investigation and intense public scrutiny.

The state Department of Juvenile Services is reviewing all resident case files at the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center in Henryton, and has forbidden the center from taking in any more sex offenders, Juvenile Services chief Nancy S. Grasmick said yesterday.

Some residents of the state-owned, privately run facility may be moved from the center, officials said. About 40 youths are in the program.

Howard police arrested a 15-year-old center resident Thursday and charged him with second-degree rape and sex offenses in an April 26 attack on a 24-year-old woman at Centennial Park, near Columbia, where the youth had been on a field trip with other center residents.

The youth had been undergoing court-ordered therapy at the center for attempting two sexual assaults in Prince George's County.

Mrs. Grasmick said she has told O'Farrell officials not to sponsor any field trips until the Juveniles Services investigation was completed.

While Howard County park officials said they had no past problems with the O'Farrell field trips -- residents had visited the park every Friday morning -- some citizens and politicians lambasted the fresh-air program.

"That's ridiculous, to be exposing people to that kind of danger," said state Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard, whose district includes the park. "It's very disturbing. I think there's a lot of room for fresh air up at the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center."

The O'Farrell center is supervised by a Danvers, Mass., agency, Northeastern Family Institute, which bills itself as "a non-profit organization to provide alternative human services."

Northeastern oversees about 30 such centers in Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, said Yitzhak Bakal, the agency's executive director.

Outdoor therapy is a part of O'Farrell's youth program, which Mr. Bakal described as "a very intense effort" to reform troubled youths by making them accept everyday responsibilities, such as working out problems with their families.

"I honestly feel terrible for the program and I feel just horrendous that this has happened," Mr. Bakal said. "The residents are taking it very hard. The center calls itself 'A Community of Dignity.' Now, it's like their home has been accused."

County police question why the center granted the boy a five-day pass after his supervisors were reportedly told he was a suspect in the rape. Police arrested him at his home in Capitol Heights.

Mr. Bakal denied that the center's officials knew the boy was a suspect. Detectives questioned several residents about what they had seen at the park, he said.

"The whole discussion centered around whether anybody saw anything. No suspects were mentioned," Mr. Bakal said.

Police said they have recommended to the Howard County state's attorney's office that the youth be charged as an adult due to the seriousness of the incident. The victim was dragged into bushes and struck several times in the head before being raped.

The youth was transferred yesterday to the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, a state juvenile detention center in Baltimore County.

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