Detention director tied to child abuse

Juvenile Services official cited in Montana

December 13, 2007|By Gadi Dechter and Liz F. Kay | Gadi Dechter and Liz F. Kay,sun reporters

The recently promoted director of detention in Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services was found to have committed child abuse at a previous post in Montana, unsealed records released last night show.

Chris Perkins acknowledged that he is the unnamed "Staff No. 2" in the redacted report issued in January 2006 by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. The report states that Perkins "directly abused or neglected youth under his care" while running a military-style academy for juvenile offenders.

The Swan Valley Youth Academy was closed during the investigation, and Perkins was fired by the private Colorado company that operated it - facts unknown to the Maryland department when it hired him this year.

The report was sealed under Montana law and only released this week by a District Court at the request of a Montana youth advocate who sent it to The Sun last night.

The child abuse findings against Perkins and a subordinate were dismissed by Montana authorities after the human services department failed to contest Perkins' motion for dismissal, court records show.

Neither Perkins nor any other employee of the Swan Valley Youth Academy was ever criminally prosecuted for any findings of the child abuse and neglect investigation, Perkins said.

The findings by the Montana agency require a "preponderance of evidence" rather than the higher burden of proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" required in a criminal investigation, according to Montana officials.

Reached last night, Perkins said that "there's absolutely no truth to the findings," but he acknowledged that he was concerned that "in the public arena, the wrong impression will be sent."

Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore said last night that he has already asked the state attorney general's office to investigate Perkins' background, an investigation he said would be completed "soon."

"Until it's proven otherwise, he still has my full confidence," DeVore said.

DeVore said that he had been unaware of allegations against Perkins when he hired him in the summer to run the Victor Cullen Center in Frederick County, a residential treatment facility for juvenile offenders.

Perkins, recently promoted to director of statewide detention facilities, has said that he didn't share his Montana troubles with state officials, because he had been "exonerated" and worried the information would taint him.

Yesterday, DeVore said he was unaware that Perkins had been fired by Cornerstone Programs, the company that ran the Montana facility.

"It is something I would have wanted to know," DeVore said.

The 23-page report describes harsh treatment of children at the Montana facility that Perkins ran. Montana child welfare investigators - based on interviews with 27 former and current residents and employees in 2005 - found that staff used unnecessary physical restraints. They also used military or wrestling holds, which have not been proved to be safe to use on children. Also, the report said some employees would provoke residents to hit them so they could respond with force.

The harshest findings of direct child abuse in the report relate to a subordinate employee under Perkins' direction, identified as "Staff No. 1." But investigators concluded that Perkins was "directly responsible" for the physical and psychological abuse committed by his subordinate.

Montana investigators also found Perkins directly responsible for multiple instances of child mistreatment.

Perkins says he has evidence that will prove the findings are false.

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