Springfield may receive sex convicts State proposal has residents worried

November 20, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer Staff writer Sherry Joe contributed to this article.

State officials can expect resistance from South Carroll residents and possibly residents in Howard County to a proposal to transfer 18 potentially violent, mentally retarded people from an Owings Mills facility to Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

Many of the hospital's neighbors reacted with surprise and dismay to news that Springfield is the state's top candidate to receive court-committed patients -- many of them sex offenders -- from Rosewood Center in Owings Mills.

"I have no problem with the developmentally disabled, but I have a big problem with the sex-offender issue, whether they're developmentally disabled or healthy individuals," said Kathy Horneman, a resident of the Carrolltowne subdivision north of the hospital grounds.

Mrs. Horneman said that after an incident 12 years ago -- a mentally ill sex offender left the hospital and attempted to attack two girls -- then-Superintendent Dr. Frederick Pokrass promised that no more criminally insane individuals would be brought to Springfield.

But Owings Mills residents won a pledge last week from Dr. Lois M. Meszaros, director of the state Developmental Disabilities Administration to move the patients.

Those residents were angered by violent incidents in which one patient who escaped Rosewood Center was accused of the arson fire that destroyed Sportsman's Hall skating rink last summer and another was accused of assaulting a female minister.

Dr. Meszaros was scheduled to inspect Springfield this week to determine whether the hospital has adequate space and secure facilities to house the patients.

The patients are males, generally adolescents or in their early 20s.

"This doesn't come at a very good time," said Mary Ellen Gearhart, president of the Carrolltowne Community Association. She said residents are still upset by a recent incident in which a man who walked away from Springfield, broke into a house in the subdivision, ransacked it and apparently stole clothing to aid his escape.

State police at the Westminster barracks were unable to say yesterday whether that man has been caught.

Mrs. Horneman said Carrolltowne residents frequently encounter patients who have walked off from Springfield. Many are just confused and need directions, she said, but "I'd have a very big problem with any criminal people at Springfield."

Sykesville Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. said he would have to consider any potential jobs that would accrue from the transfer before deciding whether to oppose it.

"This [area] has been sort of a dumping ground," Mr. Helt said. "They put prisons here, they expand the hospital."

Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll-Baltimore, said he has not yet heard from any of his Carroll constituents, but has been checking into the proposal.

"There are a lot of people who are disabled and live in our communities and have no problem. But if [the prospective transfers have] a criminal infraction, a health facility may not be the most appropriate place," Mr. LaMotte said.

Howard County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, whose district borders Sykesville within a mile of the hospital, said last night he is concerned about the number of patients who may be transferred and the level of security that would be provided at Springfield.

"I have to know the numbers and security," he said. "I would hope the security is just as good as it is now."

Mr. Feaga said he has not received any calls from constituents.

"No one seems to know about it," he said.

State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials gave contradictory statements on whether facilities other than Springfield are under consideration to receive the Rosewood patients.

Public information officer Michael J. Golden said state officials also are looking at Great Oaks, a 295-bed center for the developmentally disabled in Silver Spring, and at Brandenburg Center, a similar 68-bed facility in Cumberland.

Public information officer Tori Leonard said Dr. Meszaros assured her that neither Brandenburg nor Great Oaks is a candidate to receive the Rosewood patients.

Dr. Meszaros ruled out Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, a facility in Jessup for the mentally ill who have been accused of crimes. She told Owings Mills residents at a meeting last week that Perkins cannot be licensed to take the mentally retarded.

Mr. Golden said he did not know whether Springfield can provide adequate security for the prospective transfers.

"Even if I did know, I wouldn't be revealing it at this time," Mr. Golden said.

He said he would not reveal the information because the assessment of the hospital has not been completed.

Mr. Golden said state officials don't have a timetable for making a decision on the transfer, and said the patients could remain at Rosewood instead of being moved.

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