Two staff members accused in beating at Hickey School

Youth was held in room and punched at detention facility, police reports say

February 20, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

A youth in state custody at the Charles H. Hickey School in Baltimore County was assaulted last month by two staff members who held him in his room and repeatedly punched him in the face, according to police records.

One of the staff members offered the victim's roommate, who witnessed the incident, free telephone calls and a CD player to keep quiet about the beating, the roommate told police.

It is the second case to come to light in the past week in which staff have been criminally charged with assaulting a youth at a state-owned juvenile detention center. In the other incident, at the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County, four workers were charged with holding down a 17-year-old and striking him on Nov. 30.

In a third case, a 16-year-old boy at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center was severely beaten last month by five other youths.

None of the incidents was disclosed by the state Department of Juvenile Services until word began to leak out from police or others. The department acknowledged the Hickey case yesterday only after The Sun learned about it from other sources.

Juvenile Services officials contend that they are not obliged to alert the public to such incidents but will reply to queries if the cases become known. The officials have acknowledged asking state police investigators not to disclose any details without consulting with them first.

The department's practices amount to a coverup, said Heather Ford, director of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, an advocacy group.

"Things will never change for kids until the department stops covering up abuse," Ford said.

But department spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards said, "We're not hiding anything." She said department policy is to notify the public about any safety issues, such as an escape. Edwards said the agency is currently "looking to see if there are other situations" that warrant alerting the public.

Hickey is run by Correctional Services Corp./Youth Services International, a private contractor hired by the state. Tom Rapone, chief operating officer for the Florida-based company, was not available for comment late yesterday afternoon.

Edwards said the two workers, identified in police reports as Ronald Shaw Jr. and Wade Simmons, have been fired by the company. She said that, like the Department of Juvenile Services, the contractor "does not tolerate staff hurting children." The two men were charged by state police with assault, according to police records.

State legislators expressed frustration yesterday with the continuing violence.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the panel is drafting a letter to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to urge him to take immediate action at the state's juvenile facilities to ensure children are protected.

Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, said reform legislation before the General Assembly will not take effect until a year from now, and he and others believe that is too long to wait. "It's an emergency," said Frosh. "Every week we get a report."

The committee's action was in response to a call from Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, who told the committee yesterday: "This is a crisis, and we should identify this as a crisis."

In an interview, he said the state needs to quickly upgrade the salaries and qualifications of the hundreds of workers supervising youngsters at the state's eight juvenile detention centers.

Youths charged with offenses ranging from marijuana possession to armed robbery are sent to the facilities to await court dates or placement in treatment programs.

According to police records, the Hickey incident occurred on the afternoon of Jan. 13 after the youth - whose age was not disclosed by the department or police - became irritated after an inspection of his room by staff.

He pointed a finger at Simmons, who grabbed him by the face and neck, the police account said. It said two other staff members tried to pull Simmons away.

As the boy held his hands up to cover his face, Simmons and Shaw punched him, the document said. His face swollen and his body cut, the boy was left in his room for three hours before being taken to a nurse, it said.

Hickey has had troubles before. In the past 14 months, the independent state monitor's office has chronicled instances of staff abuse, repeated youth-on-youth assaults, and staff bringing in alcohol and pornography.

The contract with Hickey is up at the end of next month. The state is considering bids for a new pact, and several dozen companies, including Correctional Services, have expressed interest.

Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

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