DJS is cooperating fully on Cheltenham death

February 26, 2010

The death of Hannah Wheeling, a valued Department of Juvenile Services ("DJS") employee, has sent a shockwave of sadness and concern through DJS and communities across Maryland. Understandably, people want answers as to how this tragedy occurred and how it could have been prevented. I assure you that there is no one who wants answers more than I do.

But, like everyone else, I have to wait to get my answers. Why? Because the Maryland State Police and local authorities are still investigating a criminal matter that will hopefully enable justice to prevail. The Murphy Cottage, the site of this terrible tragedy, is a crime scene. Any person not authorized by the Maryland State Police or local authorities to be at Murphy Cottage cannot be there.

Permitting another investigation to be conducted at the same time as the criminal investigation would interfere with the work of law enforcement and could compromise the integrity of the criminal case. The suggestion that the DJS is in any way "blocking" or "stonewalling" the investigations of other entities is simply absurd.

I caution the Baltimore Sun from jumping to the conclusion that simply because DJS is refraining from comment on the events that occurred and preserving the integrity of the crime scene that some cover-up is brewing. Nothing is farther from the truth. DJS strives to be as transparent as possible. Once law enforcement and local authorities authorize agencies, including DJS, to commence their respective investigations, DJS will fully cooperate.

I would like to reassure the public that it is our top priority to ensure the safety of our employees and youth in our care. Accordingly, DJS has been focusing on enhancing security by providing escorts for all staff on the entire Cheltenham campus, requiring all employees to follow the "buddy system," and implementing foot patrols around the campus. Additionally, DJS senior staff members have conducted a thorough review of all safety and security procedures and increased staffing levels for the facility.

If we allow law enforcement to do their job, then perhaps we will get the answers all of us so desperately desire.

Donald W. DeVore, Baltimore

The writer is secretary of the Department of Juvenile Services.

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