Boot camp deal is struck

$4 million settlement is agreed to by state for 890 ex-inmates

Teens were routinely beaten

March 29, 2002|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

More than two years after the state was forced to close its boot camps for juveniles because guards were beating teens, Maryland officials have agreed to pay nearly 900 former delinquents more than $4 million in cash, education assistance and attorneys' fees.

Lawyers for the juveniles and the state attorney general's office say they plan to file papers today in U.S. District Court in Baltimore asking a judge to approve the class action settlement.

The agreement could bring an end to all legal issues surrounding a particularly harsh episode in Maryland's juvenile justice program. Virtually from the time the Western Maryland camps opened in 1996 until they were closed in December 1999, guards routinely beat teens - some while handcuffed and shackled - inflicting not only cuts and bruises but at times shattered teeth and broken bones.

"It was pretty brutal, and we did not want to wrap this up and let it go away with some Wizard of Oz settlement where you get a heart and a diploma," said John P. Coale, a Washington lawyer who helped a dozen attorneys representing the juveniles negotiate with the state. "We wanted real change, and we think we achieved that."

The boot camp beatings, described in a series of articles in The Sun in 1999, have been a political liability to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to oversee juvenile justice issues. And while the settlement may bring an end to legal claims, the mismanagement of the Department of Juvenile Justice is certain to be brought up during her expected campaign for governor.

Townsend's policy adviser, Michael Sarbanes, said yesterday that the settlement is in keeping with her desire to help troubled teens succeed.

"We're encouraged by the emphasis on education," he said. "We think now it's time to move on."

The agreement covers all 890 males - many of them now adults and in prison - who passed through the three Allegany County boot camps: the Savage Leadership Challenge, Meadow Mountain Leadership Challenge and Backbone Leadership Challenge.

10 to share $1 million

Ten former delinquents who were injured most severely during the beatings - suffering broken bones and teeth and severe cuts - will share $1 million, which will be paid in four annual installments.

Fifty who were beaten, but not as severely, will get $15,000 each.

All 890 former boot camp inmates will also be eligible to draw from a $2.1 million education fund. Ten former inmates can use money from the fund to pay for four years of college, with those who were most seriously injured given first opportunity at the full tuition. If anyone from that group decides not to attend a four-year college, the full tuition could go to individuals among the 50 who were injured less seriously.

All of the youths can draw from the fund to pay for two years of schooling, whether it be vocational training or community college.

The tuition will be paid directly to the institutions, Coale said.

Most of the money is expected to come from the state's insurance trust fund.

"Everything was settled with flexibility in mind," said Coale, who worked on the case for free with a colleague, Deborah St. Jean. He said a trusteeship will be established to administer the education fund.

The dozen other attorneys who represented the former inmates will share $690,000, bringing the total state payout to about $4.6 million.

Evelyn A.O. Darden, a Glen Burnie attorney who represented 14 of the teens, said the settlement was a small price for the state to pay given the severity of some of the beatings.

`Plain child abuse'

"What was considered to be discipline by state officials was plain child abuse perpetrated against minors who were in the care and custody of the state," she said. "That, obviously, is not acceptable."

Officials will attempt to notify the boot camp teens once the court papers are filed.

The assaults against them came to light in December 1999, when The Sun published "Charlie Squad," a four-part series that chronicled the boot camp experience of 14 delinquents. The series described how muscular guards slammed, punched and kicked the juveniles, and cited internal documents from the Department of Juvenile Justice to show the beatings were widespread.

After the series, a pattern of assaults was confirmed by a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge, the Maryland State Police and two task forces appointed by the governor.

Glendening ordered the National Guard into the boot camps to protect the youths, then ordered the camps closed altogether. Two of the three camps are now open but without the military bent.

The scandal also led to the ouster of Juvenile Justice Secretary Gilberto de Jesus and four of his top deputies.

One member of Savage Leadership Challenge's Charlie Squad will share in the $1 million set aside for those who were most severely injured, and at least four members will get $15,000 each. At least five of the 14 youths in the squad are now in adult prisons.

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