The family of an East Baltimore teen who died at a Carroll County school for juvenile offenders filed a multimillion-dollar civil suit in federal court yesterday against the school, several of its employees and the state Department of Juvenile Services.
The $207 million requested in compensatory damages - for negligence and wrongful death - represent $1 million for every minute that Isaiah Simmons III, who died January 2007 at Bowling Brook Preparatory School, suffered from the physical restraint "that caused his slow, agonizing and excruciating death," Steven H. Heisler, the family's attorney, said during a news conference.
Some of the 16 counts detailed in the suit call for an additional $207 million in punitive damages.
Simmons, 17, lost consciousness while counselors at the privately run school in Keymar pinned him facedown to the ground, restraining him for about three hours.
"This incident simply should have never happened, and should never happen again," said Heisler, who sat in front of the teen's sisters, mother and daughter, 3.
The defendants include Michael Sunday, Bowling Brook's director; M. Anne Fox, a health services administrator with Juvenile Services; Kay Schoo, a nurse manager with the department; and school employees Michael Paul Corradi, Paul Grier, Dennis Harding, Brian Gerard Kanavy, Jason Willie Robinson, Mark Richard Sainato and Shadi Sabbagh.
Six counselors - Corradi, Harding, Kanavy, Robinson, Sainato and Sabbagh - involved in restraining the teen were each charged last year in Carroll County Circuit Court with one count of reckless endangerment, accused of waiting 41 minutes to call 911 even though Simmons was unresponsive and needed medical attention.
The charge against Corradi was dropped in January. Later, a circuit judge dismissed the charges against the other five, ruling that a failure to call for help does not constitute reckless endangerment. Prosecutors have appealed.
The civil suit details the "system of physical restraint for student discipline" in which several staff members would place a student facedown, "sitting on the student's back, legs and arms, for long periods of time." It alleges that Sunday, Fox and Schoo were aware of that system, and that the latter two did nothing to halt or investigate the practice. The school closed in March 2007.
The suit also alleges that Juvenile Services "failed to regulate and monitor the policies and procedures implemented by Bowling Brook to discipline the children in its care." Simmons' parents and QueQuerra Johnson, the mother of his daughter, also seek $207 million from the defendants in compensatory damages on multiple counts of wrongful death.
Sunday did not return a call for comment. Brian Hayden, a Bowling Brook administrator and member of the nonprofit organization's board of directors, declined to comment on the matter.
Beth Blauer, Juvenile Services' chief of staff, declined to comment yesterday.
"We absolutely feel that this lawsuit is frivolous," said Jason W. Shoemaker, Sabbagh's lawyer.
"To allege that these gentlemen who were there to help the kids at this facility acted with actual malice is ridiculous," he said.
Jan Bledsoe, who represented Harding in the criminal case, said her client did nothing incorrect, civilly or criminally.
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