Park Still 'Open To Everyone'

County Policy Same, Despite Reported Rape

May 12, 1991|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

Last week's arrest of a teen-age resident of a juvenile offenders facility on charges of raping a Centennial Park jogger will not result in any changes in county policy -- but the state has barred the Henryton facility from having more outings at the popular park.

Morgan Amaimo, the county's chief of parks, stressed that the park "is a public place and is open to everybody. We're not going to exclude anyone because of this."

The state Department of Social Services has launched an investigation of the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center's program. It ordered O'Farrell officials Friday not to have any more "fresh air" trips at the park until the probe is completed this week. Center officials typically took three van loads of troubled youths to the park on Friday mornings, but were not at the park last Friday.

Meanwhile, county police said the 15-year-old boy, who has been charged with two previous sexual attacks in Prince George's County, may be charged as an adult inthe April 26 park incident. The youth, now charged as a juvenile, had been at Centennial Park as part of a field trip coordinated by the youth center.

Since the charges of second-degree rape and sex offenses were brought last Thursday, he has been held at the Thomas J. S.Waxter Children's Center in Laurel.

Up to 38 residents of the O'Farrell center, located in the 7900 block of Henryton Road, were visiting the park when the rape occurred, police said. The group was beingchaperoned by four O'Farrell supervisors.

The center is a state-owned, privately operated program that specializes in therapy for teens. The boy arrested on the rape charge had been court-ordered to the program in connection with the sexual assaults in Prince George's County.

Centennial Park has no security force, but its workers routinely patrol it. That will not change, Amaimo said.

Amaimo said he hasn't heard of any previous problems involving the center's residents.

"We take this very hard, because our patrons here are almost like family," Amaimo said. "It's unfortunate that this one bad incident will reflect poorly on the (O'Farrell) program, which I think was trying to accomplish a good thing."

Yitzhak Bakal, executive directorof the Massachusetts-based Northeastern Family Institute, which supervises O'Farrell and 30 other similar centers in five states, said the outdoor therapy is an important element of O'Farrell's treatment program.

"I honestly feel terrible for the program, and I think everyone feels just horrendous that this has happened," Bakal said. Northeastern Family Services is conducting its own investigation of the incident, he said.

Police arrested the boy early Thursday at his family's home in Capitol Heights, where he was staying on a five-day pass from the youth center. Police said they had questioned the boy about the incident shortly before he received the pass.

Bakal, however, said that detectives had not clearly identified the boy as a suspect in the case and his supervisors were unaware of his impending arrest when they issued the pass.

"They questioned several of the boys and asked if they had seen anything at the park," Bakal said. "They were told at that time that they were not suspected of anything."

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