Assault at youth center probed

Incident that landed boy in Shock Trauma first called accident

June 07, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun Reporter

In a bathroom of the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center in Carroll County this week, one boy choked another, causing him to fall unconscious and hit his head. The victim was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center with a brain injury.

Workers at the facility first reported what happened as an accident. Now several state agencies are trying to determine why.

Thomas O'Farrell, a medium-security residence for juvenile delinquents in Marriottsville, is run by a private firm under a contract with the Department of Juvenile Services. That department, as well as the state attorney general's juvenile justice monitor and the Department of Human Resources' child protective services, are investigating what staff members did during and after the assault.

"We're looking at what role ... staff supervision or lack thereof may have played," said Marlana Valdez, the state's juvenile justice monitor, "as well as the issue of falsification of reporting by the staff."

Tammy Brown, a Juvenile Services spokeswoman, said, "We are now not only investigating the incident, but why it was reported as an accident and not an assault."

When word came of an "accident" Monday evening, "we had a lot of questions," said Dania O'Connor, regional director of the North American Family Institute, which operates the youth center. The next day, she said, other youths told workers that the injured boy had been assaulted. At that time, she said, the facility notified Maryland State Police and other agencies.

Dania O'Connor, regional director of the North American Family Institute, which operates the youth center, said one staff member has been placed on administrative leave.

Brown said that O'Farrell employees reported the incident as an accident and that the department only learned that it was an assault when the state police notified them of arrests they made Wednesday.

Police charged Stephen Moyer, 17, as an adult with first- and second-degree assault and reckless endangerment. Moyer is scheduled for a preliminary hearing June 17 in Carroll County District Court. Another boy was charged as a juvenile. The Sun does not identify youths who face juvenile charges.

Thomas O'Farrell, in the 7900 block of Henryton Road in Marriottsville, has been run by the Massachusetts-based North American Family Institute since 1988..

O'Connor said about 70 employees work at Thomas O'Farrell, which can house up to 43 boys. It is an unlocked, staff-secure facility for youths committed by a judge to the Department of Juvenile Services.

At any given time, about 1,000 youths committed to the Department of Juvenile Services are in a facility in Maryland or out of state, most of them in low- or medium-security unlocked facilities such as O'Farrell.

Juvenile Services operates 15 facilities and has focused its attention in recent months on violence inside the Baltimore Juvenile Justice Center. But Juvenile Services and other agencies also keep tabs on other facilities.

The state's independent juvenile justice monitor's latest report on Thomas O'Farrell, released last month, says that youths and workers interviewed by the monitor were concerned about the "inappropriate" behavior of some staff members, documenting two "incidents of concern."

On Feb. 8, according to the monitor, one staff member had to be pulled off a youth he was choking. Juvenile Services placed the worker on administrative leave for several days, but no criminal charges were filed. On March 13, youths locked themselves in a laundry room and fought one another, the monitor wrote.

The monitor noted an increase in youth-on-youth assaults: nine in the last three months of 2007 to 14 in the first three months this year.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Arin Gencer contributed to this article.

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