Hickey teen is attacked in his room

Police charge second boy at juvenile facility with sexual assault

April 28, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Police say a 17-year-old boy at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School was sexually assaulted this week by another youth there - less than a month after the state assumed control of the troubled juvenile detention center to restore a "safe and secure" environment.

The victim was in his room in the Baltimore County center's dormitory-like Mandela unit when a 15-year-old resident attacked him about noon Monday, Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said yesterday. A pillow was placed over the face of the 17-year-old while he was sexually assaulted, Shipley said.

The accused, who is from Baltimore County, was charged with second-degree assault and a second-degree sexual offense. The 17-year-old, also from Baltimore County, was treated at a local hospital and was returned to the school the same day.

The assault occurred 10 days after the U.S. Justice Department told the state that Hickey and the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County are substantially violating the civil rights of the several hundred youths confined there. The department said it discovered "credible evidence of significant physical abuse of youth residents at the hands of both staff and other youth at the facilities."

Justice Department civil rights spokeswoman Casey Stavropoulos was unavailable yesterday to comment on the latest incident.

On April 1, the state took over Hickey's operations from Florida-based Youth Services International, whose contract to run the school expired. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said the takeover - an interim step while the state hires a new contractor - was to "ensure the safe and secure operation of this facility during a period of transition."

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell did not return a reporter's telephone call yesterday. But LaWanda Edwards, spokeswoman for the Department of Juvenile Services, said, "We're trying to do everything we can to make the quality of lives here better than it was under the previous vendor. We're in the process of total change. Obviously, our number one priority is the safety and well-being of the children."

Personal safety urged

Some child advocates say more needs to be done.

Stacey Gurian-Sherman, director of the children's advocacy group JJ Fair, said the assault points to the state's failure "to protect youth at the most fundamental level: personal safety."

Without substantial turnover at top levels of Juvenile Services, Gurian-Sherman said she lacked faith in the state's ability to improve conditions at Hickey. "What makes us think they are going to be any more effective running the program there than they were contracting out the program?"

Recent incidents at Hickey have included a February fight involving four teen-agers and a staff member that sent two youths to a hospital. The same month, The Sun reported that a Hickey youth was assaulted by two staff members who held him in his room and repeatedly punched him in the face.

A state independent monitor said late last year that documented cases of youth-on-youth assaults and other violent incidents occur at the school 2.5 times a day on average.

Until this month, Hickey had been run by private contractors since September 1991 - first by a Colorado company called Rebound Inc. and then by the Florida firm.

Hickey houses about 235 youths. Opened in 1850 as the House of Refuge, it confines some of the state's most serious juvenile offenders. Some youths are in detention awaiting court dates, while others have been committed there by judges. It is among eight state detention facilities for juveniles.

Youths transferred

The victim and alleged assailant in Monday's incident lived in the same housing unit. Edwards said the accused, who was taken temporarily to the Baltimore County Detention Center, is being transferred to the Lower Eastern Shore Children's Center and the 17-year-old is being moved to the Western Maryland Children's Center.

In addition to the police probe, the incident is being investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility and Accountability, which monitors the agency's employees.

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