Closer Watch Asked On Shelter

In Latest Of String Of Incidents, Firefighter Hit In Face With Pipe While Responding To False Alarm

August 12, 2009|By Andrea F. Siegel and Nicole Fuller | Andrea F. Siegel and Nicole Fuller,andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold is asking state officials to step up their watch on a facility for troubled youths after a firefighter who responded to a false alarm was hit in the face with a plastic pipe - the latest of hundreds of police and fire calls there.

"We want to make sure these facilities are held accountable," Leopold said Tuesday.

He said he was troubled by the assault on a firefighter responding to an intentional false alarm at the shelter and group home outside Annapolis, and believed the overall number of police and fire calls there - more than 500 in about three and a half years - was "inordinate."

Leopold made his request Monday to officials at the state Department of Human Resources, which licenses the Eastern Point shelter and group home, as well as at the state Department of Juvenile Services, which has placed children there, after the firefighter was hit with the pipe Sunday and suffered a minor injury. Specifically, he asked for monthly instead of quarterly monitoring, and to see the reports of the findings and of recent staff training.

"I am concerned about the welfare of citizens who live in the area and ... the first responders," he said.

He said it seemed that Secretary of Human Resources Brenda Donald and Tammy Brown, chief of staff at the state Department of Juvenile Services, understood his concerns.

"We're required to visit quarterly. In this instance we are stepping up that process, we are monitoring that site on a monthly basis. We will not be doing that alone; we will be doing that jointly with the Department of Juvenile Services," said Elyn Jones, a spokeswoman for Human Resources.

Brown said the Department of Juvenile Services' most recent evaluation of Eastern Point was July 30, and another visit is planned. Youths sent there are troubled but not violent, she said.

Eastern Point is licensed to have 11 youths in its shelter and 12 in the group home. However, fewer are there, said Jones. Few are local, Leopold said.

On Sunday, police said a youth told them he pulled the alarm because he was bored, became belligerent when firefighters tried to enter and threw the pipe before running away. While he was acting out, the other residents were yelling and encouraging him, police said.

A 16-year-old accused of throwing the pipe faces six charges and has been taken to a facility in Baltimore, said Deputy Police Chief Emerson Davis.

"Frankly, we have better things to spend our time on than this type of call over and over again," Davis said. He said other group homes in the county call police, "but this is the most outrageous."

Some neighbors said the facility has strived to respond to concerns that arise, but others said the home is a bad fit for the neighborhood.

Mary Pat and Ralph Benso have lived in their home on Eastern Point Road, which runs adjacent to the group home property, for 17 years. Back then, they said, it was quiet. The Bensos donated furniture, clothes and food to the children. But in the past few years, they said, the boys have gotten older and unruly. They have egged homes, thrown rocks at one home, damaging siding, and have unnerved residents by approaching them on the street asking for money and rides.

"It's a bad situation," said Ralph Benso. "They don't belong in a senior citizen neighborhood."

Betty and Doug Frank, whose property abuts the group home, said there have been minor issues such as trash disposal, but whenever they approached the director of the property, she was always "pretty responsive."

Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful Tuesday.

"My feeling has always been they're typical teenagers, usually happy-go-lucky kids," said Betty Frank, who said she often sees teens walking to the bus stop and they have a rapport with her dog.

"It seems like a staffing issue to me. I've raised two kids and they fought a lot. You've got to have people that can handle problems. In this neighborhood there's a lot of hysteria and not a lot of fact."

Though the Franks are generally tolerant of the facility, Doug Frank said he shares some of the concerns of his neighbors, and is especially concerned about the amount of tax money expended on frequent trips by police and firefighters to the facility.

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