6 more fired for abuse at boot camps

14 guards dismissed since brutality allegations surfaced

`No other choice'

Officials say that more terminations could be forthcoming

May 06, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The state Department of Juvenile Justice yesterday fired six more boot camp guards for brutalizing teen-agers in a program designed to straighten out young delinquents by subjecting them to military-style confinement.

Part of a continuing investigation, the dismissals brought the number of guards fired for violating the state's excessive-force policies to 14. In December, the state disbanded the Leadership Challenge Program as the result of investigations sparked by articles in The Sun on violence at the camps.

"This department will not tolerate the excessive use of force -- period," said juvenile justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson. "The results of our investigation leave us no other choice but to terminate these employees."

The Leadership Challenge program was made up of three boot camps: Savage Mountain, Backbone Mountain and Meadow Mountain, all located in Garrett County in Western Maryland. Three of the guards fired yesterday worked at Savage Mountain and three worked at Backbone, according to state officials.

The series of articles in The Sun detailed how guards at Savage routinely slammed teen-agers to the ground, punched them and kicked them. The articles also revealed that the state's after-care program was virtually nonexistent.

In an investigation, the Maryland State Police concluded that reports of the assaults were true and a separate task force appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening discerned a pattern of abuse against teens beginning shortly after the camps opened in 1996. The assaults included beatings by guards so severe that one teen's eyes were swollen shut.

Also in December, Baltimore Circuit Judge Martin P. Welch ordered all of the city's youth removed from the camps after hearing testimony from teens who said guards gouged their eyes for leaving food on their plates and slammed their heads to the ground for talking out of turn.

Official dismissed

Glendening closed the boot camps shortly after The Sun articles appeared. State officials forced the removal of Gilberto de Jesus, who was then juvenile justice secretary. In January, eight guards were dismissed.

Most of the offenders in the camps -- about 750 teens -- were from inner-city Baltimore and Prince George's County.

Interviews sought

The state Department of Human Resources is trying to interview every youth who passed through the Leadership Challenge Program to see whether they were beaten, according to Bob Kannenberg, spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Justice. So far, he said, the state has talked to about 100 youths.

One reason for the delay between the first round of firings in January and this second round in May is that it's been difficult to contact many of the youths who are no longer in custody, Kannenberg said.

"It's an incredibly lengthy process trying to get ahold of all these kids and interview them," Kannenberg said. "It's possible there could be more" terminations.

Kannenberg refused to release the names of the dismissed guards, saying it was a personnel matter. In March, Garrett County prosecutors failed to win indictments from a grand jury investigating possible criminal charges against boot camp guards.

Maryland State Police have asked the FBI to consider taking the cases to federal court.

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