Teen dies at Bowling Brook

Student in private facility for offenders collapsed as staff tried to restrain him

January 25, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

Sheriff's deputies and state police are investigating the death of a 17-year-old East Baltimore youth who collapsed Tuesday evening while being restrained by staff at a privately run residential program for juvenile offenders.

Isaiah Simmons III was pronounced dead at Carroll Hospital Center after paramedics found him in cardiac arrest at the Bowling Brook Preparatory School near Westminster, officials said.

Staff at the school attempted to subdue the youth after an outburst in which he allegedly threatened to harm other students and school personnel, according to the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.

An autopsy will be performed, but a preliminary investigation by the state medical examiner's office yesterday revealed no apparent trauma to Simmons' body, the sheriff's office said. Still, his death has raised questions.

"Children in state custody should be safe from harm, and last night's death reminds us of the work that needs to be done to reform our Department of Juvenile Services," Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement.

Simmons was sent to Bowling Brook after he was effectively found guilty in juvenile court of armed robbery. In February, he used a box cutter to rob another juvenile of a cell phone near the Inner Harbor, according to police records.

This is the first death of a youth in the custody of juvenile services since a girl committed suicide at the state-run Waxter Children's Center in Laurel in 2001, a department spokesman said.

Bowling Brook officials declined to comment yesterday.

O'Malley dispatched his chief of staff to Bowling Brook yesterday morning and directed juvenile services officials and state police to help sheriff's deputies investigate the incident.

Simmons' grieving family and youth advocates are also demanding an investigation.

"I'm trusting in the Lord that the truth will come out," his mother, Felicia Wilson, said. "So it won't happen to another child. They need to look over their policies. They need to be retrained."

Among the 20 or so relatives gathered at Wilson's Aisquith Street rowhouse yesterday afternoon were Simmons' 22-month-old daughter, Shakiya, and the child's mother, Quequerra Johnson, 15.

Johnson said she was having a hard time accepting Simmons' death. "It isn't true," said the New Era Academy 10th-grader. "He's still alive."

Relatives described Simmons as a basketball and football fan with a gentle demeanor who was excited about going to Bowling Brook.

The school's incorporation of organized sports into its curriculum has drawn praise as a progressive alternative to troubled state-run facilities.

After graduating from Bowling Brook, Simmons hoped to attend Michigan State University, where his sister, Danielle Wilson, is a graduate student, his family said.

"My impression of Bowling Brook has been generally favorable, but I do know of some incidents where kids had injuries," said Stacey Gurian-Sherman, who runs an advocacy group in Montgomery County for families of delinquents.

"There should be a thorough and independent investigation. We should not rely on [the Department of Juvenile Services] to evaluate this."

Since September, Bowling Brook has reported 22 incidents to the department in which staff have used physical force to restrain a student, according to agency spokesman Edward Hopkins.

Yesterday, several state police officers and county sheriff's deputies guarded the long driveway to the school in rural Keymar. The hum of bulldozers could be heard flattening earth around the facility, which is expanding.

The program houses 170 juvenile offenders. In the past, some would have been sent to the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, which has been largely closed.

John and Tammy Fouchie sat in the school lobby, upset about news of Simmons' death, and threatened to pull their 15-year-old son out of the program.

While restraining their son, Josh Gorsuch, on Friday, school counselors had dislocated his shoulder, stepfather John Fouchie said. "I can see trying to discipline them, but not that kind of stuff,' he said.

School officials declined to be interviewed yesterday, but sheriff's deputies provided a sketch of what happened to Simmons on Tuesday.

About 8:20 p.m., deputies were summoned by paramedics who were treating Simmons for cardiac arrest, according to Lt. Phil Kasten.

School staff told the deputies that Simmons had become "enraged for no apparent reason, and during an outburst threatened to harm other students and staff," the sheriff's office said in a statement.

"As counselors worked to calm the student, he reportedly advanced threateningly toward them and was restrained, but continued to struggle with staff. During the struggle, staff noticed that the student had become lethargic and quickly lost consciousness," the statement said.

According to court records, Simmons was 5 feet 9 inches and 147 pounds at the time of his arrest in February.

The death at Bowling Brook comes after a brawl among a group of about a dozen girls late Monday at the Waxter Center that state police were summoned to help break up.

Hopkins said there were no injuries, but the girls involved in the disturbance ripped out light fixtures and fire sprinklers in a day room, causing water and other damage.

He said the brawl started about 6 p.m. with a fight between two girls over a candy bar as the youths were having dinner.

It was broken up, but fighting resumed and others got involved when the girls moved to the day room for recreation a short time later.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Laura McCandlish, Annie Linskey and Greg Garland contributed to this article.

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