7 guards fired over assaults at juvenile camp

Excessive-force policy reportedly violated, agency officials say

Pattern of abuse cited

January 11, 2000|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

Seven guards from Maryland's boot camps for juvenile offenders have been fired for assaulting delinquents in their care, officials said yesterday as criminal investigations continued into a pattern of abuse spanning more than three years.

The fired guards were among 14 from three Garrett County camps who were placed on administrative duty last month because of accusations that they had assaulted teen-agers.

Officials from the Department of Juvenile Justice told the guards Friday that there was credible evidence the allegations were true and that the guards were being fired for violating the agency's excessive-force policy.

Juvenile justice officials would neither release the names of the guards yesterday nor describe the assaults that led to the firings.

But it has been learned that three of the fired guards oversaw delinquents from Charlie Squad, a group of 14 juveniles whose five months at the Savage Leadership Challenge and next nine months on probation were chronicled in a series last month in The Sun.

The articles reported that Charlie Squad members were routinely punched, kicked and slammed to the ground for little or no reason. The series also cited internal documents from the juvenile justice agency showing that assaults were common in the camps.

According to the documents, guards knocked out juveniles' teeth, smacked their heads against the wall and, in at least one case, broke a delinquent's wrist on his first day at Savage.

With the firings Friday, 12 state employees have lost their jobs because of assaults at Savage and the other two camps, the Backbone Leadership Challenge and Meadow Mountain Leadership Challenge.

After reports of the assaults became public last month, Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed a task force to examine the camps. The task force concluded that guards had routinely beaten the delinquents in a pattern of abuse that began in 1996 and continued until last month, when Glendening ordered the camps suspended.

"These terminations are the direct result of investigations by the governor's task force," said Bob Kannenberg, spokesman for the juvenile justice agency. "Leadership challenge staff suspected of violating departmental policy are being investigated and staff found to have violated policy are being terminated."

The task force, led by Bishop L. Robinson, a former Baltimore police commissioner and state public safety secretary, also found that top state officials knew of the abuse and did almost nothing to stop it.

After receiving the task force's report, the governor ousted Juvenile Justice Secretary Gilberto de Jesus, his top deputy and three other department employees. Robinson was named the department's interim secretary.

Maryland State Police are investigating whether to file criminal charges against camp guards, and the FBI has opened a civil rights investigation.

Matthew Riley, president of AFSCME Local 3167, which represents some of the juvenile justice agency's guards, said he did not know whether any union members were fired Friday. He said he has advised guards to hire attorneys because he fears that criminal charges are a virtual certainty.

"In the end, I hope the corporals aren't punished while the generals go free," Riley said. "People knew about these abuses clear to the top. It would be wrong for line-staff employees to get punished while people above get nothing, people who designed these programs and then tried to cover up the abuses."

State police are trying to track down some of the 500 former "cadets" who have passed through the camps. Investigators are working with the state Department of Social Services in an effort to find and interview the youths.

"We're still conducting interviews and follow-ups," said the department's spokesman, Maj. Greg Shipley. "Any criminal evidence will be presented to the Garrett County state's attorney for her review and disposition."

The filing of any criminal charges probably would be delayed until March because Garrett County will not have a sitting grand jury to issue indictments until then.

Of the guards placed on administrative duty, two remain employed by the juvenile justice agency. In addition to the seven fired Friday, five have resigned, Kannenberg said. The two remaining guards will work in the agency's Cumberland office and have no contact with juveniles pending the outcome of their cases.

The Sun followed Charlie Squad for nine months after the delinquents were released from the camps, describing serious problems with the state's after-care system in which juveniles routinely skipped drug rehabilitation meetings and appointments with their probation officers with no consequences.

A task force appointed by Glendening and Townsend is to continue to address those problems at a meeting this morning.

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