A former employee bribed two boys in a state-run youth detention center in Sabillasville to attack another boy, according to a quarterly report on state Department of Juvenile Services facilities.
The incident began Nov. 17 when a youth assaulted a staff member at the Victor Cullen Center, according to a fourth-quarter report and 2016 annual review released March 28 by the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit.
The next day, a staff member approached two boys in a hallway of the maximum-security detention center and allegedly offered to smuggle Chinese food into the facility for them if they beat up the boy involved in the previous day’s assault, the report states.
“The youth then entered a classroom and walked directly over to another youth who stood up and moved to the back of the classroom,” the report reads, detailing how the entire exchange was caught by security cameras. “Both youth then began assaulting the targeted youth.”
Several staff members, including the staff member who reportedly arranged the attack, quickly ran into the classroom to break up the fight, but the boy who was targeted suffered a scrape on his cheek as a result, the report states.
The JJMU is independent of the Department of Juvenile Services and falls under the state Office of Attorney General, according to the auditing unit’s website. The monitoring unit releases quarterly and year-end reports on DJS facilities and practices with the intent to determine whether the needs of youth under DJS’ authority were being met in accordance with state law.
Several other employees later admitted to witnessing the staff member handing out the contraband food to the two youths involved in the assault some time after the attack, but the plot was not uncovered until Dec. 2, the report states.
The report cited one staff member who reported noticing the children eating contraband food and becoming upset, realizing that another employee had violated DJS rules by bringing in the food.
“The upset staffer commented afterward that ‘Certain staff tries to enforce rules [but] then things like this cut the legs out from under those staff,’” the report reads. “... None of the staff who witnessed youth eating unauthorized food and entering or exiting the staff office reported their observations to a supervisor or administrator.”
Ultimately, the misconduct came to light when one of the boys who received food in exchange for the assault approached a supervisory staff member on Dec. 2. The Department of Juvenile Services’ Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation, according to JJMU’s quarterly report.
The report specifically states that the staff member in question was no longer employed by DJS as of the time of the report’s release, but the agency was barred by state law from disclosing details regarding specific employees, said Audra Harrison, a spokeswoman for the agency.
“When our policies and procedures are violated by staff, the department will take action up to and including termination,” Harrison said. “The department is prohibited from discussing specific staff and discipline due to personnel law.”
As troubling as the incident was, the primary concern of the JJMU was the safety of children in the facility, said Nick Moroney, director of the oversight agency.
“Our concern is that a person who would do something like that shouldn’t be working with kids in DJS at any level,” Moroney said. “The primary outcome was that the staffer is no longer working for DJS, which I don’t think is a bad thing.”
The JJMU’s fourth quarter report for 2016 outlines how the incident in November was quickly resolved once the youth reported it and that Frederick County Child Protective Services was made aware of the investigation.
The implications extend beyond a single employee, Moroney said, referring to the fact that the incident only came up when the youth learned that the staff member involved was apparently spreading rumors about him.
The report went on to detail at least two specific cases when other employees of the facility noticed the staffer handing out the contraband food, but did not report the misconduct.
“What all of this speaks to is the dynamic in the facility and whether or not the dynamic is improving,” Moroney said.
Harrison was similarly barred from discussing any specific actions taken by DJS to address the other staff members following the DJS Office of the Inspector General and the JJMU’s investigations into the assaults in November.
“Victor Cullen staff were counseled on the requirements to follow all policies and procedures, as well as to report any violations of those policies and procedures,” Harrison said.
The Victor Cullen Center, in the 6000 block of Cullen Drive, just south of the Pennsylvania line, is the only “hardware secure” facility run by the Department of Juvenile Services designed to provide educational and counseling needs for high-risk boys, according to JJMU’s report. “Hardware secure” refers to restricting movement through both staff supervision and physical limitations such as locks, bars and fences.
Meeting adequate staffing levels was no longer as much of a concern as when a state employees’ union held a rally outside the Victor Cullen Center in August of last year. Moroney said the majority of the center’s employees were fairly new hires as of late March.
“That’s both a problem and an opportunity. It’s an opportunity in that, with the right manager, it gives those folks an opportunity to set the right tone, work with the staffers and learn to do things the right way,” Moroney said. “And on the other hand, if you don’t do things the right way, then you have the opportunity for further misconduct.”
With that in mind, Moroney reiterated one of the JJMU’s main recommendations in its fourth quarter report that a full-time superintendent be named at the Victor Cullen Center. The facility has been operating under an interim superintendent since well before the JJMU’s last walkthrough in February, Moroney said.
“The department needs to make a decision — either make the person who is acting permanent, or make someone else a permanent leader,” he said.
Moroney applauded the continuing decline in the Sabillasville facility’s average daily population, which hit a low in 2016 at 21 youths.
The facility reported average daily populations of 34 youths in 2015 and 43 youths in 2014, the report states.
One reason the average daily population was so low in 2016 was because the maximum number of youths allowed at the center was capped at 28 during the second quarter of 2016. That allowed for renovations to a bathroom at the facility, The Frederick News-Post has reported.
The cap was later kept in place due to various staffing concerns, The News-Post reported in September 2016, following the release of the JJMU’s second quarter report.
Moroney and his staff at the JJMU recommended at that time that the department keep the population cap in place, if not lower. They argued that keeping the population low would help the staff better accommodate the needs of individual youths.
Harrison argued then that such a cap would limit the department’s ability to remain flexible if any additional youths were ordered held in a hardware-secure facility. She said those decisions are often made by a court order and not DJS employees.
Because the Victor Cullen Center is the only facility set up to handle the highest-risk boys in the state, capping the population could mean more boys are sent out of state, Harrison said.
Moroney acknowledged the decision on where youths are sent is often out of the hands of DJS, but the population at the Sabillasville facility was already rising. That can mean an increase in assaults and, at least, additional stress on staffers for the remainder of 2017.
“They’re ratcheting it back up now. They were up to 32 [youth] today,” Moroney said when reached for comment Thursday. “ ... We would very much hope that [DJS] would continue to use Cullen as sort of a facility of last resort.”
Overall instances of youth-on-youth assaults fell from 104 in 2014 to 65 in 2015 to 55 in 2016, according to the JJMU’s report for the fourth quarter of 2016.
At the same time, youth-on-staff assaults remained relatively stable at 19 last year, compared to 19 in 2015 and 20 in 2014, according to the report.
Several categories also saw increases from 2015 to 2016, including the number of times staff used shackles or handcuffs on youths, instances of physical restraint and the number of youths sent to seclusion, according to the 2016 final report.
First-quarter numbers for 2017 were not available as of Friday. Previous first-quarter reports were made available in May 2015 and June 2016.