School denies role in death

Officials say staff acted appropriately in restraining teen

Boy collapsed after scuffle

Allegations of abuse made by mother of former student

May 16, 2001|By Todd Richissin and Stephanie Desmon | Todd Richissin and Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

UPPER MARLBORO - The death of a student at a school for troubled boys did not stem from any wrongdoing by a staff member who physically confronted him before the youth collapsed, school officials said yesterday.

Police, however, said they were awaiting results of an autopsy before deciding whether to charge anybody in the incident. A preliminary autopsy revealed no clear cause of the death of Carlton Eugene Thomas, the state medical examiner's office said yesterday. A ruling on how the boy died could take from several days to several weeks.

Meanwhile, the mother of a former student said yesterday that her son was repeatedly abused by staff at the school before she finally pulled him out last month.

Some details about Monday's incident at the Raymond A. Rogers Jr. School, run by the nonprofit group Edgemeade, were released by the school yesterday. School officials also said that one staff member had been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the police investigation.

A spokeswoman, Elin Jones, said the school's investigation showed that about eight students were being disruptive in a multipurpose room. Staff members moved three or four students to an office adjoining the room, she said, and the students became increasingly confrontational, pushing some staff and cursing at them.

The students, including Thomas, were asked to get on the floor, she said, and when one staff member went to put him into a restraining hold, two other students either jumped or fell on the staff member and Thomas.

"Staff asked Mr. Thomas if he was OK, and he responded yes," Jones said. "Then staff noticed that he had passed out."

She said all staff members acted properly. "This has been a tragic incident," Jones said. "It is not a result of misconduct from Edgemeade staff."

Thomas, 17, was pronounced dead at Prince George's Hospital Center shortly after the altercation. His mother, Sheila Bracey, said that when she viewed her son's body at the hospital, his face was bruised and his eyes were swollen.

She said he had showed her a knot on his head during a visit Sunday and told her that it had been caused by a staff member who forced him to the ground and sat on his head several days before.

School officials have not addressed those allegations except to say in a written statement that sometimes restraining holds are necessary and can result in light scratches and bruises.

The school takes in troubled students from around the state. They are referred by local school boards, the Department of Social Services and the state's juvenile justice agency. Most of the students have behavioral problems and are in need of special education classes.

Thomas' mother said he had been diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and was placed at the school by the Prince George's County school system at her request.

Cpl. Joe Merkel, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Police Department, said homicide detectives were investigating the incident, as they do all deaths in their jurisdiction. He said autopsy results are needed before a decision on whether to file charges can be made.

In another case of a parent alleging abuse at the school, Reva Maloy said her son, Kasey Cook, now 14, spent nine months there after the private school for disabled students he attended said it couldn't handle him anymore. She said she expected he might fight with other students once he arrived at Raymond A. Rogers Jr. School but never thought he would find himself under attack from staff members.

"If I hadn't pulled him out, it could have been him [who was killed]," Maloy said in an interview in her Glen Burnie home.

The first incident Maloy reported to authorities occurred in November, when Cook's glasses were broken and he had two black eyes and a knot above his ear, she said. Officials found no evidence of abuse, according to a letter to Maloy from the Prince George's County Department of Social Services.

A few months later, Maloy said, she came to visit him and found his neck bruised and bleeding. In March, Cook had a broken blood vessel in his eye; he still has a scar on his neck. She sent photographs of the marks to authorities, but they again ruled there was no evidence of abuse.

"They were just telling me it was a takedown, that things like this happen," she said.

The 54 residential students were confined to their campus three miles away from the school yesterday after classes were canceled. Classes also have been canceled today.

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