6 indicted in death at Bowling Brook

Staff counselors waited 41 minutes to call an ambulance for teen, Carroll prosecutor says

April 18, 2007|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,Sun reporter

A Carroll County grand jury has indicted six former staff members at Bowling Brook Preparatory School on charges of reckless endangerment in the death of an East Baltimore teenager who lost consciousness while being restrained at the school for juvenile offenders.

In announcing the indictments yesterday, Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes revealed for the first time that counselors waited 41 minutes to summon an ambulance even though Isaiah Simmons, 17, was unresponsive and needed medical assistance.

"A call should have been placed to 911 about 41 minutes before it occurred, and [the six counselors] had a duty to do so," Barnes said. "That's the essence of the charge."

Asked what the staff did during that delay, Barnes responded, "Nothing. ... They thought he was faking."

Witnesses have said that Simmons was pinned to the ground, face down, for about three hours before passing out and that he had warned staff he could not breathe. The state medical examiner ruled Simmons' Jan. 23 death a homicide, listing the cause as "sudden death by restraint."

Those indicted, all of whom Barnes said took part in restraining Simmons, were Michael Paul Corradi, 31, of Middletown, Pa.; Jason Willie Robinson, 25, of Westminster; Mark Richard Sainato, 36, of Keymar; Brian Gerard Kanavy, 31, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.; Dennis Harding, 31, of Baltimore; and Shadi Sabbagh, 33, of Keymar. They could not be reached or did not respond to telephone messages left at their homes yesterday.

If convicted, they face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Under Maryland law, reckless endangerment is described as doing something that creates a substantial risk of death or serious risk of injury. It is a misdemeanor offense.

Several members of Simmons' family, including his mother, Felicia Wilson, attended a news conference held by Barnes yesterday afternoon to announce the grand jury's decision. They said they were disappointed that the panel decided to indict the counselors for reckless endangerment rather than felony charges of manslaughter.

Wilson said she wasn't "satisfied" - a sentiment echoed by Simmons' sister, Danielle Carter.

"The people involved in this need to be brought to justice," Carter said. "They need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

In a written statement, officials of Bowling Brook - which closed last month - expressed disappointment that the former counselors now face criminal charges.

"All Bowling Brook team members have always kept the health and welfare of our students at the forefront of our mission to challenge young men to change their behaviors and lead positive and productive lives, and these gentlemen are no exception," said Bowling Brook administrator Brian Hayden. "Hopefully, the truth will bear out through the criminal proceedings and these gentlemen will be found innocent of all charges."

Simmons' death remains the subject of an independent investigation by the FBI.

Barnes said the failure of the school's staff to seek emergency assistance in "a timely manner" was the specific conduct that the grand jury found amounted to reckless endangerment. He said jurors considered but decided not to indict the counselors for manslaughter, which carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.

Jurors heard from a handful of witnesses last week - the lead investigator with the sheriff's office, the assistant state medical examiner who conducted the autopsy and two state juvenile services administrators.

Barnes said that no staff or youths who witnessed the incident were called to testify. Instead, he said, the lead investigator for the sheriff's office testified about their statements.

Jurors heard testimony and reviewed evidence for two days last week and deliberated for five hours Monday before arriving at their decision, Barnes said.

He said prosecutors did not make any recommendations but informed jurors of different charges that could be brought.

"This was a very difficult case for this grand jury and would have been for any grand jury," he said. "It was a very difficult and complex situation. ... It's their decision. They were given all the facts."

In a written report to juvenile services officials in January about the incident, Bowling Brook officials said the confrontation and physical restraint that ended in Simmons' death started at 4:45 p.m. An ambulance was called at 8:15 p.m. and arrived 12 minutes later, authorities have said.

In the report, Bowling Brook officials said that Simmons was making threats toward staff and another student and that he resisted counselors who tried to calm him down. The state Department of Juvenile Services had placed him at Bowling Brook after he was found delinquent in juvenile court for using a box cutter to rob another youth of a cell phone.

During the restraint, Simmons was pinned face down on the floor, witnesses have said. Experts say that is a dangerous practice because of the risk of death by positional asphyxia.

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