Head of Hickey forced out in Ga.

Records show Norman tried to hide report of guard assaulting youth

Sun Exclusive

January 12, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

The superintendent of a state-run youth detention center in Baltimore County resigned under threat of dismissal from a similar position in Georgia two years ago for trying to hide allegations of assault made by an incarcerated youth in his care, records show.

Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore said yesterday that he was unaware of Wallis Norman's problems in Georgia and that the department would launch an investigation.

"I was told that we did contact them, that we did get the necessary clearance forms through Georgia and that Georgia did not raise any issue to us employing him in Maryland," DeVore said yesterday.

Norman, who was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment, is acting superintendent of the long-troubled Charles H. Hickey Jr. School near Parkville.

He was hired by the department in May 2006, under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration, and was promoted from assistant superintendent to the top job in October, officials said.

The revelation comes a month after the resignation of Chris Perkins as the state's director of juvenile detention, amid reports that he had been found to be responsible for child abuse at a private youth-treatment center in Montana. Perkins was hired under Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration.

Yesterday's news prompted further calls from advocates for more diligent background checks by the state.

"It highlights for me the need for DJS to investigate the backgrounds of all management staff who are working directly with youth," said Marlana R. Valdez, Maryland's independent juvenile justice monitor. "Secretary DeVore is responsible for ensuring that all of his superintendents ... can be trusted with the youths' safety and are of good moral character."

Department of Juvenile Services spokeswoman Tammy Brown said Georgia officials did not alert Maryland about the investigation into Norman when authorities here checked with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

Georgia officials could not immediately determine whether Maryland had asked for any records that would have included information about the incident.

But the Georgia records obtained by The Sun are publicly available.

Partial information

Brown said Norman told Maryland officials that he had resigned his post in Georgia, but she said she did not know whether he told them about the misconduct investigation.

"Secretary DeVore has required that an investigation be done to look more into the situation," she said.

Norman will remain in his job while the investigation is conducted, Brown said.

In November 2005, Georgia officials concluded that Norman, then assistant director of the Griffin Regional Youth Detention Center south of Atlanta, had ordered a correctional officer to delete from a "special incident report" claims that a youth at the facility had been assaulted by a guard.

Threat of firing

"Assistant Director Norman admitted that he directed [the officer] to remove the statement" that the youth had been "pushed" and "choked," according to a memorandum documenting the investigation.

The investigation also found "sufficient evidence" that "inappropriate physical force" was used against the youth, according to the document.

In letter dated Dec. 2, the Georgia department's regional administrator notified Norman that he was suspended and "that I am proposing your dismissal from employment."

Norman resigned the same day, Georgia officials said. According to the December letter, Norman had been present when a correctional officer interviewed the youth, who alleged that another officer "had slammed him on the bed and choked him."

Brown said that Norman, who is a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, was traveling to Georgia yesterday for weekend drills.

About a month after joining the Department of Juvenile Services, he was deployed to Iraq. He returned to Hickey last year and took over the superintendent's job when his boss resigned.

"To date, he's shown to be an exemplary employee," Brown said. "He's really done a great job with managing Hickey and actually helping us to turn that facility around."

Hickey is used primarily as a detention center, or juvenile jail, where youths are held pending court appearances. After years of problems with dilapidated facilities, staff shortages and violence, Ehrlich shut down long-term residential programs there in 2005.

`Very involved'

Valdez, the independent monitor, also said her inspectors' impression of Norman have been positive. "He's very involved with the kids," she said.

But Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, said news of the Georgia investigation is troubling.

"Somebody committed to the rehabilitation of youth would take very seriously allegations that a youth was assaulted by guards," Joseph said. "They would not bury it."

In the aftermath of Perkins' resignation, Maryland juvenile services officials have instituted a more thorough background-check process for high-level hires, Brown said. The department is in the process of rechecking all appointments made in the past year, she said.

But because Norman was hired at the assistant-superintendent level, he would not be subject to that new process, she said.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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