Juvenile services official resigns

He was named in report on child abuse in Montana

December 14, 2007|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN REPORTER

The director of detention for Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services resigned yesterday, saying he did not want news media attention focused on his role in a child abuse case in Montana to detract from the agency's work.

Chris Perkins stepped down a day after acknowledging that he is the unnamed "Staff No. 2" mentioned in a redacted report that was issued in January 2006 by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

The report, unsealed by a Montana court this week at the request of a Montana youth advocate, said that Perkins "directly abused or neglected youth under his care" while running a military-style academy for juvenile offenders. Perkins denies the allegations and was never charged with a criminal offense.

The Swan Valley Youth Academy was closed during the investigation, and the private company that operated it fired Perkins -- although Maryland juvenile services officials did not know that when they hired him.

"We're obviously in the process of reviewing our hiring processes to determine if there are things we need to do differently," Tammy Brown, a department spokeswoman, said yesterday.

Marlana Valdez, an independent monitor who oversees the juvenile services agency, said more thorough checks should have been done before Perkins was hired.

"A closer, more careful approach to hiring might have avoided all of this," Valdez said. "I'm really hopeful the department will take a close look at its vetting process because the welfare of youth in their facilities depends on it."

The episode has been an embarrassment for Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore, who hand-picked Perkins to run the recently reopened Victor Cullen Academy in Frederick County, a residential treatment facility for juvenile offenders.

Gov. Martin O'Malley brought in DeVore this year to head the long-troubled Juvenile Services Department and had promoted the opening of Victor Cullen as the first step in extensive reform efforts.

State Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who has championed juvenile services reform, says he continues to have faith in DeVore.

"The bigger picture is that he is making significant changes in juvenile services," Zirkin said. "Invariably, mistakes are going to be made."

Perkins also defended DeVore yesterday, saying that "this situation is not representative of Secretary DeVore's leadership or his platform relative to bringing substantive change" to the agency.

Perkins said he was "blindsided" by the report's release. "It's unfortunate that an advocacy program in a state can violate an individual's constitutional rights and get away with it," he said.

The 23-page report described harsh treatment of children placed in the Montana facility Perkins ran, based on interviews with former and current residents and employees in 2005.

Investigators concluded that Perkins was "directly responsible" for the physical and psychological abuse committed by a subordinate at the facility.

Perkins said he requested a hearing to challenge the allegations, but they ended up being dismissed because public health officials in that state failed to meet their legal responsibilities to prepare a case and respond to his appeal.

"I followed the process, and now it's being held against me," Perkins said.

Andree LaRose of the Montana Advocacy Program said her group has questions about why Montana officials "dropped the ball" in Perkins' case. She said it was appropriate for him to resign because the investigation conducted in Montana "substantiates the allegations that were made against him."

Perkins said he has information to prove the findings are false but never had the opportunity to present it at a fair hearing.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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