Youth's death in center for juveniles ruled suicide

August 30, 1994|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

The state medical examiner's office has ruled the death of a 12-year-old boy at a Laurel-area juvenile-detention facility a suicide, but his mother said yesterday that she refuses to believe it.

Vincent E. Harris Jr. of Baltimore, who was being held at the Thomas J. S. Waxter Children's Center, died by hanging Saturday, said Dr. David R. Fowler, an assistant medical examiner.

According to a Maryland State Police report, the boy had been confined to his room because of disciplinary problems, and other children heard him kicking and screaming. When the others no longer heard Vincent, they reported to staff that the boy had grown quiet, the report said.

Staff members checked the room and found the boy face-down on the floor with one end of a bedsheet tied around his neck and the other to a bedpost, the report said. The youth was taken to Laurel Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:47 p.m.

Department of Juvenile Services spokeswoman Jacqueline Lampell said a doctor was on duty at the center at the time of the death. She would not discuss any other details.

Jacqueline Day, Vincent's mother, said yesterday that she did not believe her son could have killed himself.

She said a Waxter employee, whose name she could not recall, had told her Vincent was found with a sheet next to him, not around his neck. And she said that her son's body and clothing as she saw them in the hospital bore indications of assault, but she would not elaborate.

Ms. Day's lawyer, Jeff E. Messing, said Vincent had been detained at Waxter since July 30 awaiting a hearing on a charge of destruction of property. The charge stemmed from an incident last October in which Vincent and several youths allegedly threw rocks at a woman's car.

But for two mishaps -- one of his own, one by the Baltimore City TC juvenile court -- Vincent might not have been at Waxter at all last Saturday, Ms. Day said.

Vincent initially was assigned to house arrest while awaiting a hearing on the charge, but he violated the terms by sitting on a neighbor's stoop, she said. The boy was supposed to have had a hearing Aug. 23,but confusion over whether he was present for court led the hearing to be put off for a month, she said.

Still, Vincent was not despondent over the delay, Ms. Day said, though he voiced some fears of other Waxter detainees. "He did not deserve that," she said. "Everybody loved him, and now he's gone."

The Waxter center currently houses about 70 boys and girls assigned to detention beds, Ms. Lampell said.

The last suicide in a state facility for juvenile offenders took place in February 1986, Ms. Lampell said.

Thirteen-year-old Troy Chapman hanged himself with a bedsheet tied to a latticework grate at the Montrose School, which the state since has closed.

Ms. Lampell would not confirm why Vincent was being held at Waxter or provide any other information about him.

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